Skype a Scientist While You Stay at Home

A few weeks into Wisconsin’s Safer at Home order, I saw a tweet from Sarah McAnulty, PhD, the founder and Executive Director of Skype a Scientist, proclaiming that the organization was making a big change in response to the COVID-19 pandemic—they were allowing groups smaller than five people to sign up, meaning that families stuck at home during the pandemic could meet a scientist virtually in their living room.

Skype a Scientist provides an easy way to for people to meet a scientist and allows scientists to reach people from all over the world without having to leave the lab. Teachers (and now families) can choose the type of scientist that is a good fit, from computer scientists to marine biologists and everything in between. You can also request a scientist from a group that is underrepresented in STEM fields so that participants can see a scientist who looks like them or can relate to their experiences.

I learned about Skype a Scientist a few years ago after listening to an episode of the HelloPhD podcast. I remember wishing this program had existed when I was a high school science teacher, so I was ecstatic to learn it was now possible to participate and immediately filled out the online application for our family to be matched with a scientist. We received our match the next day and scheduled a call with our scientist the following week.

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How Does Our Garden Grow?

It’s the time of year in the northern US when you start to the miss green grass, ample daylight and warm breezes that are still months away. The promise of spring’s renewal and seedlings sprouting from the snow-covered ground seems too far out to even indulge in a daydream of better weather.

But then again, I’m not a farmer.                                                    

The Promega Culinary Garden at Bluebird Farms.

Now is the time of year when farmers are reflecting on last year’s harvest, making decisions about changes that need to be made and planning for the upcoming growing season. This work includes choosing what plants and varieties will be planted, estimating how many of each are needed and ordering the seeds. Crop rotation and cover crops are also part of the considerations.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you may know that Promega has a culinary garden that supplies some of the produce for our cafeterias on the Madison campus. During the growing season our Culinary Gardener, Logan Morrow, oversees the operations of Bluebird Farms with the help of his colleage Mike Daugherty.

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Green Chemistry is Better Chemistry

When you think of sustainability, what comes to mind? Immediately, my brain imagines vast collections of plastic in the ocean and carbon emissions from millions of cars. I’m guessing that, like me, you didn’t think about optimizing the synthesis of chemical reactions to reduce toxicity or energy usage. Although we’re often focused on the more visible forms of waste, sustainability applies to an enormous range of human activities.

Promega is committed to integrating the principles of sustainability across all aspects of our business. One recent area of focus for our PBI branch is a shift toward Green Chemistry. PBI synthesizes reagents and small molecules used in Promega products. After deciding “it was the right thing to do for our customers and for the environment,” the leader of Promega’s Corporate Responsibility Program, Corey Meek, assembled a few individuals to start a conversation about implementing Green Chemistry principles.

“It was the right thing to do for our customers and for the environment.”

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NanoLuc: Tiny Tag with a Big Impact

Synthetic biology—genetically engineering an organism to do or make something useful—is the central goal of the iGEM competition each year. After teams conquer the challenge of cloning their gene, the next hurdle is demonstrating that the engineered gene is expressing the desired protein (and possibly quantifying the level of expression), which they may do using a reporter gene.

Reporters can also play a more significant role in iGEM projects when teams design their organism with reporter genes to detect and signal the presence of specific molecules, like environmental toxins or biomarkers. Three of the iGEM teams Promega sponsored this year opted to incorporate some version of NanoLuc® Luciferase into their projects.

NanoLuc® luciferase is a small monomeric enzyme (19.1kDa, 171 amino acids) based on the luciferase from the deep sea shrimp Oplophorus gracilirostris. This engineered enzyme uses a novel substrate, furimazine, to produce high-intensity, glow-type luminescence in an ATP-independent reaction. Unlike other molecules for tagging and detecting proteins, NanoLuc® luciferase is less likely to interfere with enzyme activity and affect protein production due to its small size.

NanoLuc® Luciferase has also been engineered into a structural complementation reporter system, NanoBiT® Luciferase, that contains a Large subunit (LgBiT) and two small subunit options: low affinity SmBiT and high affinity HiBiT. Together, these NanoLuc® technologies provide a bioluminescent toolbox that was used by the iGEM teams to address a diverse set of biological challenges.

Here is an overview of each team’s project and how they incorporated NanoLuc® technology.

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The Future of Synthetic Biology: A Recap of iGEM 2019

After attending the iGEM Giant Jamboree last year and being completely blown away by the projects presented (check out this article or this one), I didn’t think I’d be as astonished this year. I attributed part of the awe I felt over the caliber and quality of the projects to my wide-eyed naiveté, having never attended the event before. The second time around, the “first-time” novelty long worn off, I didn’t expect to feel that same level of amazement.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

After three days of impressive presentations, I once again felt that same astonishment as I prepared to watch the presentations of the 6 finalists. With good reason—the projects presented by the six finalists completely blew my mind!

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Tales from the Trenches: Career Growth in Biotechnology

Building a successful career in the biotechnology industry is really just a series of transitions from one role to another. But the devil is in the details—when to make a change, how to create opportunities and who can be your champion as you pivot. So how do you navigate these factors to keep your career goals on course?

Bob Weiland answers a question posed by Michele Smith at the MS Biotech Alumni Symposium.

I recently attended a symposium (presented by the University of Wisconsin Master of Science in Biotechnology Program, of which I’m an alum) that addressed this topic through the lens of one individual with a storied career in the industry. Bob Weiland currently serves on the Board of Directors for CymaBay Therapeutics. He has held various roles, from sales and marketing to operations and strategy, within large, established companies (Abbot, Baxter, Takeda) and smaller ones (Pacira Pharmacueticals). He drew on this wide-ranging experience to provide advice to professionals at all career stages.

Bob began the talk by declaring that there will be points in your career when you reach a “hard spot” and will need to transition, whether to a new role, company or even industry, to meet your career goals. He suggested a good starting point is simply to be thinking about making a change. But in the same breath he emphasized, “What are you doing about it?” He identified four distinct actions that you can take to ensure role changes and career transitions support your professional growth and development.

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In the Face of Failure, Create Your Own Path

Do you ever wonder whether you’re on the “right” career path? If you’re in academia, the trajectory you should follow can seem pretty rigid—undergrad degree, PhD, postdoc, PI, and then the elusive tenure. Have you considered that there isn’t a single “correct” path?

The hosts of HelloPhD, Josh Hall and Dan Arneman, interview Promega Science Writer Julia Nepper for their podcast.

That’s the message one of Promega’s Science Writers, Julia Nepper PhD, emphasized when she was interviewed recently on the HelloPhD podcast. The HelloPhD podcast offers advice to help students, postdocs, faculty and scientists navigate the hard questions they face every day related to graduate school and careers in science.

In Episode 121: A Teenager Goes to Grad School, Julia offered her insight on dealing with failure and finding a scientific career path that’s right for you. She also shared her unusual story of starting grad school at age 17 and some of the unique experiences she had along the way that led her to choose a career in scientific communications.

To listen to this podcast and learn more about HelloPhD, click here.

Related Posts

Sci Comm Tips From An iGEM Judge

Formal judgement in any context is nerve-racking. Scientists, familiar with being judged, rely on others to evaluate (and hopefully accept) everything from a PhD thesis defense to grant proposals and peer-reviewed journal article submissions. The frustrating part is not knowing exactly what the judges are looking for. Sure there are requirements and guidelines to follow—but how are the judges going to interpret them? It would be a whole lot easier if we could just peek into their minds. Unfortunately for most, that fantasy isn’t likely to turn into reality.

But if you are part of an iGEM team, today is your lucky day! Our own Preeta Guptan volunteers as a judge for the iGEM competition, and in today’s article you will get her insider’s perspective about what iGEM judges look for. You will also get some tips to help you excel in the iGEM competition—and effectively communicate about science in general.

Preeta is an External Innovation Manager at Promega, which means she seeks out and investigates technology that might be valuable for Promega to license or acquire. The opportunity to scout up-and-coming synthetic biology advances was one reason she wanted to be an iGEM judge, but curiosity was at the core of her decision. Preeta and the other judges bring their unique perspectives and experiences to each iGEM project and team they evaluate. Here are some suggestions from Preeta:

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Immunotherapy—Don’t Forget the Microbiome

Bacteria make you sick. The idea that bacteria cause illness has become ingrained in modern society, made evident by every sign requiring employees to wash their hands before leaving a restroom and the frequent food recalls resulting from pathogens like E. coli. But a parallel idea has also taken hold. As microbiome research continues to reveal the important role that bacteria play in human health, we’re starting to see the ways that the microbiota of the human body may be as important as our genes or environment.

The story of how our microbiome affects our health continues to get more complex. For example, researchers are now beginning to understand that the composition of bacteria residing in your body can significantly impact the effects of therapeutic drugs. This is a new factor for optimizing drug response, compared to other considerations such as diet, interaction with other drugs, administration time and comorbidity, which have been understood much longer.

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Lab Sustainability: Easy as 1-2-3

Sustainability is a bit of buzzword lately—for good reason—but knowing how to be more sustainable and actually putting sustainable practices in action are not the same thing. This may be one reason why scientists have been slow to adopt change in their laboratories. By sponsoring My Green Lab, we’re hoping to help spread the message that there are simple changes researchers can make in their labs to significantly impact sustainability.

Here are some easy ways to reduce energy, water and waste in your lab and start making your research more sustainable.

1. Energy

Compared to office buildings on campus, academic lab buildings consume 5 times more energy. To put that into perspective, labs typically consume 50% of the energy on a university campus despite occupying less than 30% of the space. Fortunately, reducing energy usage can be one of the easiest ways to make your lab more sustainable. Continue reading “Lab Sustainability: Easy as 1-2-3”