Artificial intelligence (AI) is not a new technological development. The idea of intelligent machines has been popular for several centuries. The term “artificial intelligence” was coined by John McCarthy for a workshop at Dartmouth College in 1955 (1), and this workshop is considered the birthplace of AI research. Modern AI owes much of its existence to an earlier paper by Alan Turing (2), in which he proposed the famous Turing Test to determine whether a machine could exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to—or indistinguishable from—that of a human.
The explosive growth in all things AI over the past few years has evoked strong reactions from the general public. At one end of the spectrum, some people fear AI and refuse to use it—even though they may have unwittingly been using a form of AI in their work for years. At the other extreme, advocates embrace all aspects of AI, regardless of potential ethical implications. Finding a middle ground is not always easy, but it’s the best path forward to take advantage of the improvements in efficiency that AI can bring, while still being cautious about widespread adoption. It’s worth noting that AI is a broad, general term that covers a wide range of technologies (see sidebar).
For life science researchers, AI has the potential to address many common challenges; a previous post on this blog discussed how AI can help develop a research proposal. AI can help with everyday tasks like literature searches, lab notebook management, and data analysis. It is already making strides on a larger scale in applications for lab automation, drug discovery and personalized medicine (reviewed in 3–5). Significant medical breakthroughs have resulted from AI-powered research, such as the discovery of novel antibiotic classes (6) and assessment of atherosclerotic plaques (7). A few examples of AI-driven tools and platforms covering various aspects of life science research are listed here.
On June 15, 2023, we announced the winners of the 2023 Promega iGEM grant. Sixty-five teams submitted applications prior to the deadline with projects ranging from creating a biosensor to detect water pollution to solving limitations for CAR-T therapy in solid tumors. The teams are asking tough questions and providing thoughtful answers as they work to tackle global problems with synthetic biology solutions. Unfortunately, we could only award nine grants. Below are summaries of the problems this year’s Promega grant winners are addressing.
The UCSC iGEM team from the University of California–Santa Cruz is seeking a solution to mitigate the harmful algal blooms caused by Microcystisaeruginosa in Pinto Lake, which is located in the center of a disadvantaged community and is a water source for crop irrigation. By engineering an organism to produce microcystin degrading enzymes found in certain Sphingopyxis bacteria, the goal is to reduce microcystin toxin levels in the water. The project involves isolating the genes of interest, testing their efficacy in E. coli, evaluating enzyme production and product degradation, and ultimately transforming all three genes into a single organism. The approach of in-situ enzyme production offers a potential solution without introducing modified organisms into the environment, as the enzymes naturally degrade over time.
Endometriosis is a condition that affects roughly 190 million (10%) women of reproductive age worldwide. Currently, there is no treatment for endometriosis except surgery and hormonal therapy, and both approaches have limitations. The IISc-Bengaluru team at the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, India, received 2023 Promega iGEM grant support to investigate the inflammatory nature of endometriosis by targeting IL-8 (interleukin-8) a cytokine. Research by other groups has snow that targeting IL-8 can reduce endometriotic tissue. This team will be attempting to create an mRNA vaccine to introduce mRNA for antibody against IL-8 into affected tissue. The team is devising a new delivery mechanism using aptides to maximize the delivery of the vaccine to the affected tissues.
Today’s guest blog is written by Sophie Mancha, a global marketing intern with Promega this summer. She will be starting her 4th year as a PhD candidate in the Biomedical Engineering Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, studying pancreatic cancer.
Graduate students are used to working. Not only during regular work hours but also well into the night to finish readings or work on data analysis. Ripping graduate students away from their research as they desperately try to produce useful data may be as hard as finding toilet paper during the first few months of the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak. However, across the world graduate students saw their research come to a screeching halt. The pandemic took over and everyone suddenly went into quarantine.
I clearly remember my first virtual lab meeting. We all frantically tried figuring out what video-conferencing platform to use and how to share our screens. We kept repeating “stay calm” as we naively thought this would only last a couple of weeks. As the months went by, I began to panic. I realized I had finished analyzing the last remaining data I had left and was no longer being “productive”. This quickly spiraled into thoughts that I may never earn my PhD.
Today’s guest blog is written by Melissa Martin, a global marketing intern with Promega this summer. She will be a senior this fall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she is double majoring in zoology and life sciences communication, with a certificate in environmental studies.
Congrats! You are attending a university and pursuing a challenging, yet rewarding, undergraduate science degree. Getting to this moment probably included lots of late nights spent studying or worrying while applying to your dream college. However, now that you are here you will find that classes provide a lot of information. You can even take your education one step further by getting hands-on experience in a research lab.
Working in a lab is not only about making your resume look good. It offers a real-world experience that directly enhances your learning experience and can even guide your future. For example, your experiences in the lab can teach you basic skills (pipetting, determining concentrations, performing titrations, etc.) that will be useful in a variety of science professions.
Today’s blog is written by Technical Services Scientist, Joliene Lindholm, PhD.
Many of us have come back to the lab after a summer of field work or a vacation break, but there is usually someone checking in on the lab to make sure the gel electrophoresis box did not completely overflow with dead bugs and the water baths are not completely overrun with exciting new algae. Maybe this was just because I worked in an older building in an entomology department, but why do insects like running buffer so much? Some labs have been completely shut down for months at this point or maybe just a few essential people have been in keeping stocks and colonies going. Some labs have adapted to the new normal and developed guidelines to keep researchers safe while still doing essential work in the lab. See how the Promega Scientific Applications group has maintained this balance.
Here are a few tips from what I learned in managing a lab after a period of field work to get back into the swing of things:
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.
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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