A Valuable AP Biology Throwback

Today’s blog is written by guest blogger, Isobel Utschig, a science teacher at Dominican High School in Whitefish Bay, WI. We bring this to you in celebration of #TeacherAppreciationWeek 2020

About 10 years ago, I attended a field trip at the Biopharmaceutical Technology Center Institute with my AP Biology classmates. I felt apprehensive upon seeing the micropipettes and other “foreign” lab supplies on the benchtops. We learned that we would be using enzymes to cut DNA and visualize those different fragments on a gel. I marveled at the glowing streaks and found it incredible that I was looking (albeit indirectly) at real pieces of DNA. As we moved into the genetic transformation activity I was even more intrigued. We opened the tubes of bacteria and added some luciferase DNA, which would allow the bacteria to create a light-producing protein.  We then “heat shocked” the bacteria to coax them to take up these plasmids from their environment looking at the bacteria later, their glow revealed our success. The day flew by and at the end I marveled at all that we had done!

Students from Dominican High School AP Biology busy at work 
during a BTC Institute field trip
Students from Dominican High School AP Biology busy at work
during a BTC Institute field trip

Three years later I joined a research lab at Marquette University. Upon seeing the lab benches full of unfamiliar equipment, the same wave of apprehension came over me. My PI introduced me to the first task: digest a plasmid with restriction enzymes and verify the cut with gel electrophoresis. Memories of the high school field trip flooded my mind as I gripped a micropipette and attempted to nimbly load the wells. While I greatly improved in my skills over the course of the summer, the familiarity I had from my trip to the BTC Institute put me at ease from the beginning.  

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Getting a PhD in Sweatpants: Guest Blog by Dr. Susanna Harris

Today’s blog is guest-written by Susanna Harris, who recently defended her PhD thesis at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.


I just defended my PhD. Nearly six years of blood, sweat, and tears, most of which were cleaned up with Kimwipes while sitting at my desk in a laboratory facing out towards the UNC Chapel Hill football field. Nearly six years of work, all summed up in a handful of slides. Nearly six years of work, explained to my friends, family, and colleagues – a moment I had dreamed of since the fall of 2014.

What I hadn’t dreamed of? That I would be sitting at my small desk in the corner of my room, with no present audience aside from my snoring dogs. That there would be no dinner celebration that carried into a night of fun along Franklin Street. That, unseen by the viewers of my defense, I would be wearing sweatpants as my name changed from Ms. to Dr. Harris.

Pictured: The audience for Susanna’s thesis defense.

Why did I wear sweatpants when I could have worn literally anything in my closet? Because I think it’s hilarious. I believe this situation will end and we will walk away with memories and lessons learned from an extremely difficult time in the history of the world. I want to walk away with one more ridiculous story to add to a long list of “What even was that?” tales from grad school.

Working towards a PhD is hard at any time; let’s not pretend this pandemic isn’t making things even worse. I was fortunate in many ways that my advisor had already moved our laboratory to a new state in 2019, allowing me to adjust to meeting through webcams and working from home before the pandemic changed the lives of all North Carolinians. This has given me a unique perspective to tease out which problems come from distance working and which are the result of Safer-At-Home orders. Based on my experiences, here are a few tips, tricks, and words of warning.

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Just Keep Swimming: How the Wisdom of a Blue Cartoon Fish Can Inspire Us Amid COVID-19

Today’s blog is written by guest blogger Karen Stakun, Global Brand Manager at Promega.

Wise words from a forgetful blue fish are uniting Promega employees during these trying days. Initiated by our VP of Operations as a rallying call to employees and reinforced through a kind gesture from the Hollywood writer and director who dreamed up the fish, I invite you to join Promega as we “Just Keep Swimming.”

Those words were uttered by Dory, a blue tang with short-term memory loss, in the 2003 animated movie Finding Nemo. Now a classic, it tells the story of Marlin, an overprotective clownfish, who searches the ocean for his missing son Nemo. Dory is his sometimes-unwelcome companion. Desperate to find his son, Marlin grows exhausted and begins to feel defeated, but Dory will not let him give up. Her motivation is simple yet potent. “Just Keep Swimming.”

Setting the Scene

As COVID-19 was emerging in China, Promega began scaling up manufacturing in January to meet the growing global need for testing products. As epidemic became pandemic, and demand quickly became unprecedented, we moved swiftly to increase capacity and add more shifts at our Madison manufacturing facilities, all while ensuring the safety of our employees.

All of this takes dedicated people, especially those on our operations team, working long hours in an atmosphere of global uncertainty. Dedication is in abundance at Promega, as every employee feels a deep commitment to humanity’s struggle against this disease. However, Chuck York, our VP of Operations, says he began seeing the team struggle with the never-ending increases in demand. Despite record product totals, it could be demoralizing for a group that prides itself on always being able to deliver what customers need.

That’s when Chuck recalled one of his family’s favorite movies. “I love the never-give-up aspect of Finding Nemo and in particular the net scene.” Toward the end of the movie, Dory and several other fish find themselves caught in a fishing net. With Nemo’s help, the fish realize they can turn Dory’s mantra into action. They keep swimming together in the same direction and break free of the net.   

“I wanted the team to focus on what we could control, doing all we can each day to keep product flowing. And we were and are doing an outstanding job of that. I also hoped to lighten the mood and bring a smile to peoples’ faces. Our ‘net’ is the ever surging COVID-19 demand, but eventually we will overcome if we just keep swimming.”

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Fighting the COVID-19 Pandemic With Antibody Testing: The Importance of Serological Assays

Today’s blog is written by Ashley G. Anderson, MD, Chief Medical Officer at Promega.

The need for reliable virus detection methods is central to the global response to COVID-19. These test results not only inform health decisions for individual patients, but they also help us build projections of how the virus will spread, which can in turn influence policy decisions.

Following the emergence of COVID-19, PCR-based tests were developed and deployed to detect the virus in patients in hospitals. PCR, or Polymerase Chain Reaction, is a common technique used in labs to amplify large quantities of DNA. The detection tests use swabs placed deep into the back of the nose to detect genetic material carried by SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19.

Those tests have been crucial to monitoring infection rates and informing patient treatment, but at this point they have fallen short of providing an overall picture of the pandemic. We know that thousands more cases have likely gone untested due to mild or unnoticed symptoms or lack of access to tests. Since PCR-based methods can only tell us if the virus is active in the patient at the time of sample and offer no information about whether a patient has been infected in the past, we currently have no way to determine how many of these unconfirmed cases exist or which patients have recovered. Serological assays are the one of the most promising tools to address that question.

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Wisconsin’s Public-Private Partnership to Increase COVID-19 Testing Capacity

This blog is written by Sara Mann, General Manger, Promega North America Branch

Promega is part of a new public-private partnership among Wisconsin industry leaders to increase the state’s laboratory testing capacity for COVID-19. I am pleased to represent Promega in this effort. The valuable insight we at Promega are gaining every day through our participation in this innovative partnership not only benefits Wisconsin labs, it also provides unique understandings about how we can best meet the testing needs of our customers around the world.

Promega Maxwell Instrument shown in a laboratory.

The new partnership includes laboratory support from Exact Sciences, Marshfield Clinic Health System, UW Health, as well as Promega. These organizations, along with the Wisconsin Clinical Lab Network, are sharing knowledge, resources, and technology to bolster Wisconsin’s testing capacity. Our goal is to help labs find the quickest approach to the most tests with their validated methods.

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Meeting Customer Needs in Response to Market Dynamics: Responding to the Coronavirus Pandemic

Today’s blog is written by Chuck York, VP of Manufacturing Operations at Promega.

Coronavirus SARS-2-CoV continues to fuel unprecedented demand for COVID-19 related products. Once a term relegated to virology research labs, “coronavirus” is now a household term and a global crisis that has upended lives, disrupted entire economies and shaken our sense of normalcy.

Clinicians, researchers, government officials and the general public are understandably concerned about the availability of reagents for coronavirus testing. At Promega, we are hearing the needs and concerns of our scientific colleagues and partners, and we are doing all that we can to help alleviate them.

At Promega, we are hearing the needs and concerns of our scientific colleagues and partners, and we are doing all that we can to help alleviate them.

As a global company with thousands of products, we have been meeting customer demand in response to market dynamics for decades. Our long-term approach has served customers well. Our efforts to provide support for the COVID-19 response began in early January, with our work with our colleagues and customers in China. We are applying what we’ve learned to propel us forward in the most efficient way now.  

We continue to increase production of all COVID-19 related reagents and instruments due to an unprecedented increase in global demand. Production lines that were running one shift 5 days a week are now operating 3 shifts seven days a week, and we continue to take measures to increase our manufacturing capacity.

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What You Need to Know About Coronaviruses

Here’s a handy infographic to share with friends and family about coronaviruses. You can find even more information about these and other viruses and the tools to study them on our website.

The Art of Being a Field Scientist

Today’s article is written by guest blogger Vince Debes, this year’s winner of the Promega Art Contest for Creative Scientists. He will be starting a Master of Science program in Geological Sciences in the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University this fall.

Grand Tetons at night

It’s incredible how seemingly insignificant actions can lead to major events years down the road. When my partner and I were testing out our new camera shutter remotes in the Grand Tetons on the way to do field work in Yellowstone, I never imagined an image we captured would lead to a grand prize in the Promega Art Contest for Creative Scientists. The four-minute-long exposure was taken at midnight with a full moon and shows the ghostly, almost imperceptible, movements of Colter Bay marina vessels against a backdrop of trailing stars and the stolid Tetons.

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From Forensic Analysis to Taco Thursday: My Experience as a Promega Intern

Today’s blog is written by guest blogger, Kali Denis, an intern in our scientific applications group. You’ll find her bio at the end of the article.

A few months ago, I stood in front of my freezer at home, holding a bag with a tube full of gum that I chewed. The freezer was overflowing, as we had just done our weekly grocery shopping, so I ended up stuffing the bag next to some frozen fish sticks. I wondered how long it would take for one of my roommates to question just exactly what this gross-looking bag was doing in our freezer. I doubt they would have ever guessed that it was for a project at my internship!

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Researching the Researcher: Abbeah Navasca, 2019 Real-Time PCR Grant Winner

The three winners of the 2019 Real-Time PCR Grants have been hard at work in the six months since receiving their grants. Each winner was eligible to receive up to $10,000 in free PCR reagents as well as the opportunity to collaborate with our knowledgeable technical service and training teams.

Abbeah Navasca is a plant pathology researcher with the Tagum Agricultural Development Company, Inc. (TADECO*, Philippines). She is developing treatments for viral infections that affect one of Philippines’ largest and most valuable agricultural exports: bananas. As a result of the qPCR grant, she and two of her colleagues were able to participate in sample preparation and analysis workshops with Promega Technical Services experts in Singapore. During her visit, the team worked through strategies for plant sample preparation and amplified those samples with the GoTaq® 1-Step RT-qPCR System. We had a chance to ask her more before she headed back to her lab.

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