Celebrating and Supporting Women in STEM for Science-a-thon

Photo via Mariel Mohns

During the week of October 14-18, scientists and science communicators around the world came together for a social media celebration of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Science-a-thon has its roots in Madison, WI, where Tracey Holloway (a professor at UW-Madison) had the idea to raise money to support organizations that advance the careers of women in STEM fields.

This year, Science-a-thon participants collectively raised over $14,500 for three partner charities: the Earth Science Women’s Network, Girls Who Code, and the Society of Women Engineers.

We at Promega were proud to be an active supporter of the event through sponsorship and participation. This year, we had 5 employees share their #dayofscience through daily Instagram story takeovers, as well as their personal social media accounts to give followers a glimpse of #lifeatpromega.

Continue reading “Celebrating and Supporting Women in STEM for Science-a-thon”

Kyle Hill Explains the Science of Star Wars at the Wisconsin Science Festival

Kyle Hill poses heroically with Biotech Bucky at the Wisconsin Science Festival / Photo courtesy of WARF

With another major Star Wars film about to hit the theaters this year, sci-fi enthusiasts are abuzz with excitement to watch epic lightsaber battles and hyperspace travel. But are these sci-fi concepts more grounded in science or fiction? That is what science communicator Kyle Hill aims to explore.

A Wisconsin native, Hill graduated from Marquette University with degrees in engineering and science communication. Now he resides in Los Angeles, where he built a career writing and talking about the intersection of science and pop culture through his video series, Because Science.

This past weekend at the Wisconsin Science Festival, hundreds of fans gathered to hear Hill share his ideas on how the sci-fi concepts in the Star Wars movies aren’t that far off from actual science.

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WiSciFest 2019: A Retrospective

This past weekend was the 9th Annual Wisconsin Science Festival, and we at Promega were excited to join in the celebration of science throughout the state. We participated in the Discovery Expo on Thursday and Friday, where dozens of demonstrations and exhibits were scattered throughout the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery building. Thousands of children on field trips filled the halls, eager to poke and prod at strange and exciting new things.

At our table, we talked about the science of bioluminescence. With 3D-printed firefly luciferase models in hand, we showed the glow of recombinant luciferase to the incoming children and explained to them how scientists could use bioluminescence like a tiny “flashlight” to look inside of cells and watch what’s happening. Our learners received a nice little reward for their attentiveness in the form of glow-in-the-dark firefly stickers.

Thank you to the tablecloth for providing the darkness needed to grab this pic.
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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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It Takes a Village: Automating Plasmid Purification for iGEM

Today’s blog is guest-written by Wihan Adi, a Master’s student majoring in physics at Justus-Liebig-University in Giessen and team member of iGEM Marburg. Although his background is in nuclear and particle physics, his research interests shifted toward affordable biosensors for point-of-care cancer detection, which is how he ended up doing microbiology for iGEM.


Back in March when the iGEM season had just started, Maurice, a fellow iGEM Marburg team member, told me that he was exchanging emails with Margaretha Schwartz from Promega. Given my background as a physics student, Promega was not a household name for me at the time. “So, are you interested in automating a plasmid purification protocol?” asked Maurice. He told me that Promega was willing to supply the Wizard® MagneSil® Plasmid Purification System for this purpose; that was another name that added to my confusion.

This year, iGEM Marburg is aiming to establish a fast phototrophic organism as a synthetic biology chassis. For this goal we chose Synechococcus elongatus UTEX 2973, with a reported doubling time of 90 minutes. More specifically, we are creating an easy to use toolbox to empower rapid design testing, including genome engineering tools, self-replicating plasmid systems, natural competence and a Golden Gate-based part library. Our team chose to work on phototrophic organisms because we envision accelerating research in this particular field. (Note: Last year, Marburg’s iGEM project won the Grand Prize!)

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Seeds of Change Award Recognizes Commitment to Local Community

Nicole Haselwander and Stephanie Shea accept the Seeds of Change award for Promega.

Community Shares of Wisconsin presented Promega with its Seeds of Change award for our workplace giving efforts. The award is presented to a local business that shows innovation, growth, and commitment to Community Shares of Wisconsin. Over the past 15 years Promega and our employees have collectively contributed more than $717,000 to Community Shares work! Our 100% corporate matching helps employee gifts go twice as far to member nonprofits and the community.

Charitable giving programs and paid time off for community service are examples of Promega’s commitment to corporate responsibility. Learn more at https://www.promega.com/responsibility #corporateresponsibility

Nicole Haselwander and Stephanie Shea were on hand at the Community Change-Maker Awards hosted by Community Shares of Wisconsin to accept the Seeds of Change award on behalf of Promega Corporation. “It was an incredibly inspiring and uplifting program,” says Stephanie.

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Brazilian University Swatting at Leishmaniasis Parasite

The Medicinal Chemistry Center (CQMED), headquartered at Campinas State University in Brazil, recently started a project in partnership with Promega to develop drugs that can be used against Leishmania. This genus of protozoans is the etiological agent of leishmaniasis, transmitted to humans by sandflies.

Microscopic image of Leishmania parasite
Microscopic image of Leishmania tropica. Credit: Brian E. Keas at Michigan State University.

Leishmaniasis is classified as a neglected tropical disease that mainly affects poor communities. Symptoms include large skin sores and an enlarged spleen. The challenge in developing drugs to treat Leishmania is finding appropriate therapeutic targets. These targets are normally proteins whose inhibition leads to death of the parasite. In addition to pharmaceutical company Eurofarma, whose goal is to develop drugs for Leishmania, Promega was chosen to help solve this problem because of our NanoBRET™ Target Engagement (TE) assay*, a well-established technique for measuring protein interactions. In this assay, NanoLuc® luciferase is attached to the protein of interest, and a fluorescent NanoBRET™ tracer molecule is added to the cells. This produces a BRET signal. When a competing ligand is added, it will displace the tracer molecule, enabling quantification of the strength of the interaction compared to the tracer molecule..

A challenge that researchers will face will be ensuring that the NanoBRET™ tracer reaches the inside of the parasite cells; because Leishmania is an intracellular parasite, molecules need to cross the host cell membrane, the membrane of the vacuole containing the parasites, and the membrane of the parasite itself. Another challenge the slow reproduction of Leishmania within macrophages. On top of that is the fact that the parasite’s metabolism varies depending on its biological cycle, meaning that there could be long periods of time during which a drug’s therapeutic target is not expressed in the cell, during which time the drug would have no effect. The ideal target would be expressed at high levels throughout the cell cycle.

The project is being led by Rafael Couñago, a researcher at CQMED, and Promega scientists Matt Robers and Jean-Luc Vaillaud.

*An earlier version of this blog incorrectly said that these experiments are based on the NanoBRET™ assay using HaloTag® protein.

When Five Hundred Tigers Are Not Enough—Ten Years Later

Ten years ago, I wrote about the distressing news of lack of genetic diversity in the wild Amur tiger population. International Tiger Day seemed like a good time to check in on what progress has been made to both sustain and establish wild tiger populations worldwide. In 2010, 13 tiger range countries (TRC) committed to a goal of doubling the world’s tiger population by 2022.

Amur Tiger.

That timeline was an ambitious goal, as highlighted by a report published in PLOS One in November of 2018 (1). The authors assessed the recovery potential of 18 sites identified under the World Wide Fund for Nature’s (WWF) Tigers alive initiative. The recovery system has several parts: A source site with higher density of tigers that the area around it and has a legal framework that does (or will) protect the tiger population; a recovery site that has a lower density of tigers than the surrounding regions, has the ability to support more tigers but is not as supported as a source site; and a support region that connects a source and recovery site. These different site types all require different levels of management, available resources and legal protections, but they need to be managed in a coordinated way.

Aside from what is needed to manage these recovery sites, there are also other things that need to exist to support recovery of tiger populations. Some of these include support from local populations and governments, as well as environmental requirements such as breeding habitats and prey populations. For 15 of the 18 sites it is the prey population that is the sticking point. Recovery of prey populations is a slow process. The authors concluded that there need to be a commitment to achieving a realistic recovery of tiger populations, even if we miss the 2022 goal.

The fate of the wild tiger is still tenuous. Only time will tell if the interventions that are being implemented can be realized in time.

Reference

  1. Abishek, H. et al. (2018) Recovery planning towards doubling wild tigers Panthera tigris numbers: Detailing 18 recovery sites from across the range. PLOS One 13. e0207114. published online

Think Restriction Enzymes are so last decade? Not so fast!

Ribbon diagram of EcoRI homodimer bound to doublestranded DNA
Ribbon diagram of EcoRI homodimer bound to doublestranded DNA

Restriction enzymes sometimes get a lot of flak. In the not-so-distant past, they were the workhorses of molecular biology. Restriction enzymes played a huge role in developing early DNA sequencing techniques. They chop DNA in a predictable manner, which makes cutting and pasting genes of interest manageable and relatively easy, enabling the development of  genetic engineering and recombination technologies. These technologies are now moving beyond restriction enzymes toward more modern methods, with the most talked-about method being CRISPR /Cas9. As technology continues to advance at such a rapid pace, restriction analysis  and other “ancient” technologies feel antiquated. But this is not necessarily the case. Continue reading “Think Restriction Enzymes are so last decade? Not so fast!”

Empowering Communities with the Light of the Sun

Today’s blog brought to you by Julia Nepper, a Promega science writer guest blogging for the BioPharmaceutical Technology Center Institute (BTC Institute)!

“We all benefit from STEM role models. When students from underrepresented populations meet and learn about STEM professionals of color, they can see themselves as the scientists and engineers of the future. Fun, engaging science programming for children is also essential to light the spark for the next generation. A Celebration of Life, the partnership between the BTC Institute and the African American Ethnic Academy, two community nonprofits, has combined these 2 objectives for over twenty years.” according to Barbara Bielec, K-12 Program Director.

This year, the theme of the program is Sunsational!, with a number of activities related to the sun, solar energy, and STEM careers. As part of the program, students heard talks from several STEM professionals of color about their work. Mehrdad Arjmand, co-founder of solar energy company NovoMoto, was one of those speakers.

Dr. Arjmand was born and raised in Iran. His path to becoming a mechanical engineer began as a child, with him “destroying a lot of equipment” in his house. After completing his undergraduate education, he came to the States to pursue a PhD at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he met Aaron Olson, a student who was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo. These two discovered a shared passion for starting a business and helping their communities, which led directly to the founding of NovoMoto. The name derives from Portuguese for “new” (novo) and Lingala—a language spoken in Congo—for “fire” (moto). Continue reading “Empowering Communities with the Light of the Sun”