Promega Highlights Innovative Work with Brazil Young Researcher Award

In late May 2022, Promega invited the nine finalists for the Promega Brazil Young Researcher Award to present their work at a Student Research Symposium on the Promega Madison campus.

Scientists from around Brazil recently traveled to Madison, WI, USA as part of the Brazil Young Researcher Award

The Brazil Young Researcher Award program was created to acknowledge exceptional work by Brazilian students utilizing Promega products in their research. These student researchers were recognized for their achievements and were given the opportunity to present their innovative research to Promega scientists as part of a week-long immersive experience on the Promega campus.

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Tracking African Swine Fever in Domestic Pigs

Domestic pigs on a farm. African Swine Fever can wreak havoc in domestic herds.

African Swine Fever is a highly contagious disease caused by the African Swine Fever Virus (ASFV) that can spread among populations of both wild and domestic pigs. While not transmissible to humans, it is passed between pigs through direct contact with bodily fluids or feces, through the consumption of contaminated food or through tick-borne transmission. With a mortality rate nearing 100%, this virus can easily devastate large populations of pigs.

ASFV is extremely resilient and is predominantly carried by wild pigs and soft ticks of the Ornithodoros genus. It can survive extended periods of time in processed meat, and contaminated pig products are a common source of transmission, posing a serious threat to the global pig industry due to rising demand for pork. The consequences of unchecked spread of ASFV can include a disruption in the production and exportation of pork products, job losses and other devastating effects. Among those countries with pig populations vulnerable to the spread of ASFV is the Philippines.

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Detecting SARS-CoV-2 In Wastewater: The New Frontier in Pandemic Surveillance

Tracking the spread of COVID-19 has been a tremendous challenge throughout the pandemic, but doing so is a key step toward containing the virus. Many communities have relied on patient testing and contact tracing, with limited success. In search of better methods, some countries have made inroads in a different form of disease surveillance: wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE). This approach involves testing wastewater for the presence of pathogens, primarily through DNA and RNA analysis, and has proved to be an accurate and highly effective way to keep tabs on the prevalence and progression of COVID-19 at the population level.

Switzerland is among those countries that have implemented WBE in their efforts to stay ahead of the pandemic. Since WBE first emerged in 2020 as a promising tool, several Swiss laboratories undertook wastewater testing, and protocols were established early.

“At the beginning, the methods to actually detect coronavirus in wastewater were rather laborious and complicated, and involved a lot of resources,” said Dr. Claudia Bagutti, microbiologist and molecular biologist in the State Laboratory of Basel-City, Switzerland.

Bagutti heads a small team performing applied biosafety research. In 2020, her lab was tasked with developing an assay for detecting COVID-19 in wastewater. However, the available methods were prohibitively complex and resource intensive.

In the meantime, researchers at Promega recognized that Promega products and methodologies could potentially be applied to WBE and set to work developing simpler and more efficient method for wastewater analysis. In the spring of 2021, Bagutti’s team decided to try adopting this method.

“Promega had a very nice method which was less laborious and much easier to handle, and that’s why we gave it a try,” said Bagutti.

In the ensuing study, Bagutti and her team analyzed effluent from the catchment area of one municipal wastewater plant in Switzerland. They examined the total wastewater output of around 270,000 people. Viral RNA was extracted using Promega’s Maxwell® RSC Environ Wastewater TNA Kit. The number of RNA copies present, representing the overall concentration of COVID-19 in each sample, was determined via quantitative reverse transcriptase (RT-qPCR) using the GoTaq® Enviro Wastewater SARS-CoV-2 Systems, also from Promega. The viral RNA was subsequently sequenced with next generation sequencing, and the results correlated quite well with the COVID-19 cases in the catchment area. Remarkably, this study detected the Omicron variant in a wastewater sample one day prior to the first reported case identified through patient testing.

“We observed a similar spread to most other western countries with respect to the time of the first discovery of these variants,” said Bagutti. “We were also able to demonstrate the presence [of Omicron] in the wastewater before it came up in a sample of a COVID-19 patient test, which of course shows the usefulness of wastewater monitoring for the prediction of new variants and infection dynamics.”

WBE is especially promising in that it provides population-level data independent of patient testing. Health departments can be alerted to the presence of COVID-19 earlier than would otherwise be possible with traditional testing and can take precautions to contain the spread. In creating a more user-friendly method for wastewater analysis, Promega has opened the door for more laboratories to conduct WBE, which could provide communities around the world with the information they need to preempt the progression of COVID-19.

“The Promega method is very straightforward to handle,” said Bagutti. “It only takes a small volume of wastewater, which makes it handy. It’s less time-consuming compared to the methods which were in the literature at the beginning of the pandemic, and it just works very well. We also did experience great support from Promega.”

At this point, much of the wastewater analysis performed in Switzerland is done with the Promega method, including in federal, state or private labs. The swift advance of WBE in Switzerland speaks to the colossal effort put forth both by Promega researchers in developing the necessary products and methodologies, as well by those labs that have made use of Promega’s products to monitor COVID-19 in wastewater.

“It’s really been a success story for us, from the beginning,” said Bagutti.

Learn more about Promega’s work with wastewater-based epidemiology.

Using Tumor-Produced Neoantigens to Treat Lynch Syndrome

Lynch syndrome, named for American physician Dr. Henry T. Lynch, is a hereditary condition that causes a predisposition to several types of cancer, most commonly colorectal but to other types as well, including ovarian, endometrial and stomach cancer. The root of this disorder lies in a genetic defect known as DNA mismatch repair deficiency (or dMMR), which affects the process by which mistakes are repaired when our DNA is copied during cell division. People with Lynch syndrome can have up to an 80% increased lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer, and are more susceptible to developing colorectal and other types of cancers at an earlier age. Accounting for 3-5% of all colon cancers, Lynch syndrome is an excellent target for preventative treatment, like a vaccine. Research exploring a Lynch syndrome vaccine seeks to harness the body’s innate immune response to target tumor cells and has yielded promising results.

Person receiving a vaccine. Lynch syndrome, a hereditary condition that causes a predisposition to several types of cancer is an excellent target for preventative treatment. Read more about how researchers have recently explored vaccines for Lynch syndrome
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Superior Support to Automate and Scale-Up Your Workflows with Ease

Automating a workflow can be a tedious and challenging process that requires lots of time and resources. A helping hand can make all the difference, as it did for Stephanie Dormand, Molecular Supervisor at UniPath Women’s Health, a diagnostics lab located in Denver, Colorado. 

See how Promega Field Service Support staff helped one laboratory automate and scale-up sample processing to improve laboratory workflow. Promega Scientist at a liquid handler.

The women’s health molecular testing service at UniPath primarily relied on the tabletop Maxwell® RSC Instrument to conduct nucleic acid extractions using the Maxwell® Viral TNA Kit. As their testing needs grew, they required more throughput. Dormand worked with Promega Field Support Scientist Rick Grygiel to implement the Maxwell® HT Viral TNA Kit on the Tecan Fluent 780 liquid handler, raising their throughput from 16 to 96 samples per run. When COVID-19 struck, Dormand worked with Rick to quadruple their testing with the addition of another Fluent 780.

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High-Molecular Weight DNA for Long-Read Sequencing

Imagine that you’re putting together a large, complex jigsaw puzzle, comprising thousands of exceptionally small pieces. You lay them all out and attempt to make sense of them. It would be far easier to assemble this puzzle were the pieces larger, containing more of the image advertised on the box. The same can be said when sequencing a genome.

high-molecular weight DNA  Depiction of a DNA helix

Traditional short-read or next-generation sequencing relies on DNA spliced into small fragments (≤300 base pairs) and then amplified. While useful for detecting small genetic variants like single-base changes to the DNA, this type of sequencing can fail to illuminate larger variations (typically over 50 base pairs) in the genome. Long-read sequencing, or third generation sequencing, allows more accurate genome assemblies, facilitating better detection of structural variants like copy number variations, duplications, translocations and inversions that are too large to identify with short-read sequencing. Long-read sequencing has the capability to fill in “dark regions” of a genome that are unfinished and can be used to assemble larger, more complex genomes using longer fragments of DNA, or high-molecular weight (HMW) DNA.

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Linking Evolution to Pregnancy Outcomes: A Study in Gene Expression

Many of the traits characteristic to human pregnancy are unique. In contrast to other mammals, human pregnancy and labor last longer, and humans are more prone to complications, including infertility, preeclampsia and preterm birth. Research recently published in eLife Sciences by Vincent Lynch, PhD, and colleagues explores the history of gene expression in the human uterus, how it differs from other mammals and how changes in expression may be implicated in our susceptibility to disease.

This study is part of the emerging field of evolutionary medicine, where researchers apply modern evolutionary theory to help us understand the mechanisms behind human health and disease. By studying the history of gene expression, researchers and physicians can illuminate the pathways through which evolution has guided the development of modern tissues and organ systems, and how these systems may differ in one species versus the next.

DNA helix. We review a recent publication that explores the history of gene expression in the human uterus
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The Latest Addition to the Lab: A Review of the Spectrum Compact CE System

When it comes to acquiring new equipment, choosing the right instrument for your lab can be daunting―you want to make a worthwhile investment that will go the distance, both in longevity and overall capacity. In a perfect world, the instruments available to you would have been thoroughly tested and reviewed, especially as they compare to one another, making your job that much easier.

In the case of benchtop capillary electrophoresis (CE) instruments, researchers Nastasja Burgardt and Melanie Weissenberger have done just that. Their article, titled “First experiences with the Spectrum Compact CE System”, appeared in the International Journal of Legal Medicine and offered a comprehensive review of the performance of the recently released Spectrum Compact CE System in a forensic genetics laboratory setting.

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Writing Successful Grants: Putting It Into Words

This blog is part four of a four-part series on grant writing inspired by resources published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and others. 

After a long and arduous journey, you have finally arrived at the last stage of your quest to create the world’s most inspiring grant proposal: writing it all down.  

One of the most challenging parts of putting together a grant proposal is simply writing it. You must write to build the reviewers’ confidence in you and demonstrate your contributions to your field, effectively illustrating your qualities as a researcher and your capacity to achieve your goals.

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Writing Successful Grants: Consider Your Audience

This blog is part three of a four-part series on grant writing inspired by resources published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and others.  

You have thoughtfully designed your research and carefully crafted a foolproof budget proposal. Now you come upon the dreaded review committee. But fear not! There are ways to enchant the mysterious reviewer, to reveal their wants and needs and win them to your cause.  

professionals at a workshop; writing successful grants requires understanding your audience

In this blog, we will discuss why considering your audience should be one of your foremost priorities in applying for a grant. You should identify your reviewers and capture their interest through a well-organized and compelling story. If you can effectively frame the intent of your research and successfully communicate how it will benefit your field of study, your chances of completing your quest – or securing funding – can improve ­drastically.

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