Social Distancing: Taking a Lesson from Creatures Big and Small

For many of us, the current SARS-CoV-2 pandemic means working from home. For many, working from home means being away from human companionship that’s normally part of our work lives. While my four-legged office mates are quiet and do not require meetings, they are no substitute for human coworkers.

How about you? In our socially distanced world, do you find strength in the knowledge that others are also self-isolating to stay healthy?

What if I told you that numerous animal species, lobsters to mongoose, ants to mandrills, all practice social distancing to avoid infectious agents? Here are a few examples.

Image of banded mongoose family group.
Banded mongoose family group.
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Neutralizing Antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 Shown to Lessen Infection in Mice

Here in the US, as around the world, we’re beginning to come out of COVID-19 hiding, whether mandated or voluntary. We are slowly starting to leave the confines of home and “safer at home” orders. Many of us are donning masks and venturing out as needed, still under social distancing considerations.

We’re looking forward to a time when social distancing won’t be necessary, when we can see our relatives and friends, and give them a hug without concern for their safety or ours.

When will that time come? Many believe that it won’t be completely safe until there is an effective vaccine to protect us from SARS-CoV-2.

How does a vaccine protect us? Effective vaccines cause our immune system to produce antibodies that are specific for SARS-CoV-2, so that if we come into contact with the virus, it will be neutralized, preventing infection.

At this time, many questions remain about whether SARS-CoV-2 virus causes production of antibodies. And if antibodies are produced, are they protective?

In some exciting news this week, scientists studying SARS-CoV-2 have shown that neutralizing antibodies to this virus are made in humans. Here’s a look at their work.

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Testing for COVID-19: How it Works

Depending on your viewpoint, source of information and tolerance for risk, this can be a frightening time for persons all over the planet. The level of disruption to daily life that we’re all experiencing due to COVID-19 is unprecedented.

We are all either not working, working from home and away from our normal offices, or in some cases working many more hours to cover for sick coworkers and caring for SARS-CoV-2-infected persons.

But there is good news if you find that information is power. We hope that some information about the testing being used in the US for this novel coronavirus might be fuel for you, empowering in terms of information.

What is the Name of the Virus, and the Disease?
Since this is a global pandemic, the World Health Organization was instrumental in naming the virus and disease. From this web page: the disease is called COVID-19.

The coronavirus responsible for this disease is SARS-CoV-2.

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Giant Rodent, Lowered Cancer Rates: What Genetic Analysis Reveals about the Capybara and Cancer

Do you find the thought of a giant rodent off-putting? Do your thoughts go to huge rats running amuck in dark allies, threatening unsuspecting passers by?

I personally hold rodents in low esteem. Rats, mice…who needs them? With the exception of cavies. I spent countless hours as a child playing with guinea pigs. We had as many as 16 of these little rodents at one time (the males are very capable of chewing or climbing out of cardboard boxes to reach a female in the next box). The baby guinea pigs were very cute and the adults had quite pronounced personalities, and a lot of attitude.

It was this history with guinea pigs that made me interested in learning more about the largest rodent in the world, the South American capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris). These family-oriented herbivores are found in savannas and forested areas, living in groups of as many as 100 members. They are excellent swimmers and can remain underwater for as long as 5 minutes. In fact, capybara mate only in the water. (Perhaps it’s not surprising then that the South American alligator, the caiman, is one of the capybara’s greatest predators.)

Photos of an adult male capybara.
A male capybara, with a scent gland (called a morillo) on his head. Photo by: Charles J Sharp – Own work, from Sharp Photography, sharpphotography, CC BY-SA 4.0.

With their squared-off nose and lack of tail, capybaras actually resemble guinea pigs. However, these oversized cavies weigh as much as 40 pounds. and can reach 24” at the shoulder, the size of an average standard poodle. Guinea pigs, on the other hand, weigh in at 2–3 pounds, and are 3–4” tall.

Their proportions make capybaras 60 times more massive than their closest relatives, rock cavies (Kerodon sp.) and 2,000 times more massive than the common mouse (Mus musculus). This tremendous size difference is why Herrera-Álvarez et al. took a closer look at the capybara, studying its propensity to develop cancer and other tradeoffs that would seem to coincide with its exceptional size.

Continue reading “Giant Rodent, Lowered Cancer Rates: What Genetic Analysis Reveals about the Capybara and Cancer”

Enhancing Creativity: The Promega Employee Art Show 2020

What hangs in the hallways of your workplace? Advertising? Awards? Commercially-sourced artwork? The Promega campus in Madison, WI, is composed of eight buildings. In many of these buildings you’ll find all of the above.

But as you enter the atrium of the BTC (Biopharmaceutical Technology Center) building where the Employee Art Show hangs, you’re greeted by handmade, homemade artwork, including drawings, ceramics, paintings, photographs and quilts.

Promega employees examine artwork in the BTC during the 2020 Employee Art Show opening.

These art pieces hold the distinction of being created by talented Promega employees, their families and friends. The annual Promega Employee Art Show opened Friday, January 17, with approximately 150 works displayed, including pieces created by parents of employees, employees and their children. These art pieces are on display to the public through the end of February 2020.

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Improving Science Literacy for the New Decade

Science touches our lives, daily. But far too many scientific concepts and terms are misunderstood and used incorrectly. Even those of us wearing a “scientist” badge sometimes misappropriate terms, which can act to reproduce the misuse.

A basic level of science literacy is so important for all of us. Why? So that when bombarded with comments about vaccination or climate change on a social media site, we are able to sift through the jargon, understand what’s correct and what is not correct, and make decision based in facts vs. internet gossip. With just a bit of knowledge of basic science terms, you are better protected against deception and you’ll know how to sort facts from fiction.

Here are a few general science terms that are commonly misunderstood and misused.

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To Sleep, Perchance to Clean

While you and I are getting some shut eye each night, things are happening in our brains. Good things. Therapeutic things.

Think of it as brainwashing of a sort. There is a multiplicity of brain activities going on during sleep, and a November 1 paper in Science shows for the first time when and where in the brain these activities occur, and how they are connected.

CSF washes through the brain.

Here’s a bit of backstory.

To assess both the progression and pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease (AD), as well as the efficacy of AD drugs in clinical trials, there has been interest in the concentrations of amyloid-beta (Aβ) and tau protein in cerebral spinal fluid (CSF).

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Promega Receives Wisconsin 75 Sustainability Award

There is nothing like a bit of recognition to energize your efforts, right? Promega was recently awarded the 2019 Distinguished Performer: Sustainability award, as one of the Deloitte Wisconsin 75 awardees.

This award is not so much a feather in our cap, as fuel for our sustainability fire both in Madison, and globally. Here are a few details on the award and why Promega was chosen.

The Deloitte Wisconsin 75 awards recognize private sector companies that:

Promega Germany GmbH office.
New Promega Germany (GmbH) office.
  • Are headquartered in Wisconsin
  • Have a majority (>50%) of ownership held by an individual, family or employees stockholders
  • Have at least $50M in annual sales
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The Surprising Life of Bones

Schematic of bone producing and reducing cells osteoblasts and osteoclasts.
The cells that make and degrade bone.

Standing, walking, running. When was the last time you gave your skeleton a second thought? How about when that car barely missed you in the parking lot? Or a deer ran in front of you? Maybe you just missed a car door opening on your bike ride today?

Your bones were involved in your response to that sudden shock/surprise, but not the way you think.

You may have jumped, swerved or hit the brake pedal (congratulations on the excellent reflexes) and yes, bones were involved in all of those actions. But a new article in Cell Metabolism reveals that bone is the essential component in initiation of that response.

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Kinase Inhibitors as Therapeutics: A Review

This blog was originally published in April of 2018. Today’s update includes the paper, “Quantitative, Wide-Spectrum Kinase Profiling in Live Cells for Assessing the Effect of Cellular ATP on Target Engagement” from Cell Chemical Biology, demonstrating the power of NanoBRET™ target engagement kinase assays in the study of kinase inhibitors.

The review “Kinase Inhibitors: the road ahead” was recently published in Nature Reviews Drug Discovery. In it, authors Fleur Ferguson and Nathanael Gray provide an up-to-date look at the “biological processes and disease areas that kinase-targeting small molecules are being developed against”. They note the related challenges and the strategies and technologies being used to efficiently generate highly-optimized kinase inhibitors.

This review describes the state of the art for kinase inhibitor therapeutics. To understand why kinase inhibitors are so important in the development of cancer (and other) therapeutics research, let’s start with the role of kinases in cellular physiology.

The road ahead for kinase inhibitor studies.

Why Kinases? Continue reading “Kinase Inhibitors as Therapeutics: A Review”