The Randomness of Cancer

A major scientific study grabbed headlines recently, and the implications of its findings may affect many of us, if not all of us. In a paper published in Science by Cristian Tomasetti, Lu Li and Bert Vogelstein of Johns Hopkins University, the authors report that nearly two-thirds of known cancer causing mutations can be attributed to random mistakes that occur during DNA replication. In other words, the vast majority of these mutations occur in a spontaneous, uncontrollable way— it may not matter how you live your life, or what measures you take to decrease your chance of developing cancer. As the authors and the press put it, it really just comes down to luck.

gene-mutationDisturbing? For many, yes. It’s not easy to accept that one’s luck in activities such as winning the lottery may also apply to whether or not you will be touched by cancer. That is partly why this study is gaining so much attention.

As the authors explain in their publication, until now most cancer-causing mutations had been attributed to two major sources: inherited and environmental factors. But they found that a third kind of mutation, replicative (R) mutations that arise from unavoidable errors associated with DNA replication, account for 66 percent of mutations that drive cancer. Continue reading

Writing Scientific Papers: Is There More To This Story?

The tactic of “telling a good story” is nothing new within the business of selling, marketing and even educating about science. The word itself, science & storytelling“storytelling,” achieved buzzword status a few years ago in the corporate world, so it’s no surprise that it now touches industry scientists.  But the importance of telling a good story within the realm of scientific peer-reviewed papers?  That is something new, and it may impact how scientists write up their results from this point forward.

In a provocative scientific study published in PLOS ONE in December 2016, researchers from the University of Washington showed that “Narrative Style Influences Citation Frequency in Climate Change Science.” Perhaps the results they report are unique to climate change science—an area of science especially susceptible to public perception. But then again, perhaps not. This paper may be worth considering no matter what field of science you call your own.

The authors—Ann Hillier, Ryan Kelly, and Terrie Klinger—used metrics to test their hypothesis that a more narrative style of writing in climate change research papers is more likely to be influential, and they used citation frequency as their measure of influence. A sample of 732 abstracts culled from the climate change literature and published between 2009 and 2010 was analyzed for specific writing parameters. The authors concluded that writing in a more narrative style increases the uptake and influence of articles in this field of science and perhaps in scientific literature across the board. Continue reading

Top Science Books of 2016

While I planned to write about New Year’s resolutions for the first Promega Connections blog of 2017, I was sidetracked by some “best of 2016” lists—in particular, best science books. I realized though that these seemingly unrelated ideas overlapped at some level because every year I resolve to find time to read more books. What was once an easy and natural escape for me, like for so many others, reading for fun now requires a bit of effort and prioritization. With the continual distractions of Netflix, social media and online news stories, it’s a challenge to find time to read books the way I once did.

So, in honor of a new year’s resolution do more of what I like and less of what I don’t like, here is a list of what has been deemed the best science books of 2016. I culled through the lists of several of the most reputable science blogs and publications and looked for overlap among them. Between the Science Friday blog, New York Magazine’s blog, The Science of Us, Smithsonian Magazine, NPR, and the New York Times’ best of 2016 lists there are loads of suggestions to keep you reading until the start of the next decade. Below are eight recommendations that appeared on several “best of” lists. Continue reading

The Role of the NanoLuc® Reporter in Investigating Ligand-Receptor Interactions

Luminescent reporter assays are powerful research tools for a variety of applications. Last March we presented a webinar on this topic, Understanding Luminescent Reporter Assay Design, which proved to enlighten many who registered. The webinar addressed the importance of careful experimental design when using a luminescent reporter such as Promega’s Firefly or NanoLuc® Luciferase.

Reporters provide a highly sensitive, quantifiable metric for cellular events such as gene expression, protein function and signal transduction. Luminescent reporters have become even more valuable for live, real-time measurement of various processes in living cells. This is backed by the fact that a growing number of scientific publications reference the use of the NanoLuc® Luciferase reporter and demonstrate its effectiveness as a reporter assay. Continue reading

To Seq, or Not to Seq

Seq—shorthand for “sequence”— has become a more recognizable term thanks to a novel and provocative genomics initiative called the BabySeq Project. The project, officially launched in May 2015, was designed to explore the impact of whole-exome sequencing (WES) on newborn infants and their families. A randomized, controlled trial to sequence healthy and sick infants and then provide sequencing information, it is the first of its kind. Those infants randomized to receive WES undergo genetic sequencing of all protein-coding genes and analysis of about 1,700 genes implicated in childhood health, along with 18 years of follow up genetic counseling.29813751-nov-2-blog-post-nicole-600x470-web

The project is directed by Robert C. Green, geneticist and physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School and the Broad Institute, and Alan H. Beggs of Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Funding, totaling $25 million, comes from the National Institute of Child Health and Development and the National Human Genome Research Institute. Continue reading

Of Elephant Research and Wildlife Crime – Molecular Tools that Matter

Here at Promega we receive some interesting requests…

Take the case of Virginia Riddle Pearson, elephant scientist. Three years ago we received an email from Pearson requesting a donation of GoTaq G2 Taq polymerase to take with her to Africa for her field work on elephant herpesvirus. Working out of her portable field lab (a tent) in South Africa and Botswana, she needed a polymerase she could count on to perform reliably after being transported for several days (on her lap) at room temperature. Through the joint effort of her regional sales representative in New Jersey/Pennsylvania (Pearson’s lab was based out of Princeton University at the time) and our Genomics product marketing team, she received the G2 Taq she needed to take to Africa. There she was able to conduct her experiments, leading to productive results and the opportunity to continue pursuing her work. Continue reading

The Cell Line Identity Crisis: Old problems, new concerns

If you work with cell lines you may have paid attention to the dramatic headline published last month in the online journal STAT, Thousands of studies used the wrong cells, and journals are doing 29981164-Whistlenothing.” In their column The Watchdogs (“Keeping an eye on misconduct, fraud, and scientific integrity”), Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus call out the fact that scientists continue to publish research using cell lines that are contaminated or misidentified. Recent estimates have found that the percentage of misidentified cell lines used by scientists is as high as 20 to 36. The blame here is being placed on the peer reviewed journals for not blowing the whistle. The authors call for journals to put some “kind of disclaimer on the thousands of studies affected.”

This is not a new claim. The continuing problem of cell line misidentification, of lack of authentication, has been covered before in various channels. It’s easy to find news publicizing yet another retracted publication. Promega Connections has published a number of blog posts addressing this, one as recently as last year: Do You #Authenticate? This post describes the bold move by the journal Nature to adopt a new policy around cell line authentication. Beginning in May 2015 the journal required authors of all submitted manuscripts to confirm the identity of cell lines used in their studies and provide details about the source and testing of their cell lines. Continue reading

Real Life Research Stories That Inspire

29980706-AugustBlog-QuestionThree weeks ago the journal Science ran a fascinating story about a young doctor fighting to cure his own rare and deadly disease. I clicked on the link to the article and was immediately drawn into the saga of David Fajgenbaum. The journalist, Jennifer Couzin-Frankel, tells the riveting account of Fajgenbaum who, in his third year of medical school at the University of Pennsylvania, learned that his organs were failing, quickly. His health had been deteriorating for a few weeks prior, and he knew something was seriously wrong. Yet as a medical student in the midst of his obstetrics-gynecology rotation, he had little time to focus on his own mysterious symptoms.

The story goes on to describe in detail how Fajgenbaum, now 31 years old, and his dedicated team of physicians continue to try to solve the mystery of his potentially fatal illness. The first time his liver, kidneys and bone marrow were found to be malfunctioning he landed in the ICU for nearly seven weeks. There he suffered a retinal hemorrhage that caused temporary blindness. But that was only the beginning. Continue reading

The Science of Fireworks

FireworksAnother Independence Day is in the books, and for many of us in the U.S. it included spending time with friends, family, food and the traditional holiday fireworks. Around the world, fireworks add to the enjoyment of many annual celebrations and events. Their colorful visual and audio display has the ability to thrill us, no matter what age we are. Despite growing older I never seem to tire of fireworks; I’ve also noticed that with each passing year the show seems to get more sophisticated. Whether it be a new color or shape or design of firework, pyrotechnic technology seems to improve at an impressive rate.

That got me thinking… how do fireworks actually “work”? Basic chemistry and physics are clearly at play, so in the spirit of a science-related blog I decided to look into this and share what I’ve learned. Continue reading

A Day In the Life: Mikael Arnfelt, Promega Sales Manager, Sweden

*Today, June 6, is Swedish National Day – a fitting day to highlight this Promega employee.

Promega sales representatives worldwide find themselves on the road on a regular basis—it is, after all, part of the job description. Traveling many miles to visit customers, they’re fortunate to enjoy a steady change of scenery and a variety of daily tasks.

Mikael at a Finnish police lab where he was servicing a Maxwell instrument.

Mikael at a Finnish police lab where he was servicing a Maxwell instrument.

For Mikael Arnfelt, Sales Manager of Promega’s Sweden branch, travel obligations are sometimes taken to a higher level. That’s why we wanted to share his adventures for our “Day In the Life” series; though as Mikael is quick to point out, there’s really no such thing as a “typical day,” at least not in his life!

Mikael’s experiences begin to make sense once you learn more about his position with Promega. “We are a small branch, so we each need to take on multiple roles,” he explains. “In the beginning I was the only sales rep for Sweden, so until last year I took care of southern Sweden and all of Finland/Estonia, together with our distributors there.” He and his few colleagues are also responsible for many different product groups—Mikael’s include Detection Instruments, Cellular Analysis, and Applied Markets. “I am also the back-up for order taking,” he says. “I currently cover this seven days a month, and during vacation periods, so my colleague can work on various administrative tasks, and even take some vacation himself.” Continue reading