Employee-Led Program Reduces Landfill Waste by Rescuing Plastic Film

Katelyn Geleynse presses the button and the machine groans to life. The massive metal plates shift until a half-ton of compressed plastic tumbles out onto the waiting pallet. The crowd cheers. Permanent markers are passed around and everyone takes turns signing the massive block.  

It’s February 16, 2024, and the members of the Promega Sustainability Committee are gathered to witness the first bale of plastic film being ejected from the Madison campus’s new baler. It’s only the first bale, but it represents a major step in the company’s efforts to reduce plastic waste.

Members of the Sustainability Committee gather at Kepler Center to celebrate the first plastic film bale prepared by the new baler.
Members of the Sustainability Committee gather at Kepler Center to celebrate the first plastic film bale prepared by the new baler.

“All of this would have gone to the landfill if we hadn’t set up this program,” Katelyn says. “It feels good to know that at least some of my waste is getting a second life.”

Plastic film is notoriously difficult to recycle and takes decades to break down in a landfill. The Promega initiative to divert this waste was started by a small group of employees who noticed a problem and worked for over a year to build a sustainable solution. What began as a small volunteer operation grew to spur capital investment in a process that will rescue around 35,000 pounds of plastic per year.

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Celebrating Our 2023 Promega In Action Awardees

Each year, Promega employees are offered the opportunity to receive up to 40 hours paid time off to donate in volunteer service through our Promega In Action program. Providing sustained support of organizations in our community, our employees participate in a wide range of activities.  

In 2023, we awarded 26 individuals who volunteered for 23 different organizations, some bringing along their Promega team members in attendance. From crafting comfort shawls for families of future organ and tissue donors, to volunteering with Meals on Wheels, to journeying to South Africa to deliver charitable donations for children in need, the opportunities to contribute to our community are abundant and impactful.

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Studying Episodic Memory through Food-Caching Behavior in Birds

A black-capped chickadee nibbles on a seed
A black-capped chickadee nibbles on a seed.

Your ability to navigate space and time is anchored in your memory, particularly episodic memory, which catalogues the experiences you have in a given location. This type of memory is shaped by complex neural networks firing within your hippocampus. So how exactly do we store memories of the hundreds of things that happen to us in a day, especially when they unfold in the same settings?

There are theories as to how we form single-shot, or “episodic”, memories, many of which center around the activity of place cells, which light up when you are in a specific environment. The idea here is that, with every event that happens in a place, these cells would shift and fire in novel patterns. Scientists at the Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute at Columbia University questioned this—while it is known that place cell activity can certainly be affected by experiences, they wondered whether there could be an alternative explanation for episodic recall that wouldn’t require the constant remapping of one’s core memory of a place.

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AI in the Research Lab: Where We Are, and Where We’re Going

This guest blog post is written by Poncho Meisenheimer, Vice President of Research and Development.

Poncho Meisenheimer is the Vice President of Research and Development at Promega Corporation.

I got into an argument with ChatGPT this morning.

That’s not unusual. I argue with ChatGPT a lot. In fact, that’s usually my goal.

As a scientist and a leader, it’s important to pressure-test my ideas. I need to account for biases, identify limitations, and strengthen weak points. Large language models like ChatGPT have given me a powerful tool in my pocket to become a better version of myself.

The advent of generative artificial intelligence has changed our world. We can’t keep doing things the way we did even only a year ago.

Promega is embracing AI. Every department is finding groundbreaking and responsible ways to deepen their impact using our ChatGPT enterprise license. As the Vice President of Research and Development, I have been working with our scientists to think beyond simple queries and imagine new horizons we can explore with these tools. 

Make no mistake: I don’t think that ChatGPT and other AI tools can, will or should replace human scientists. Instead, they will empower all scientists to ask more ambitious questions and uncover new answers. They will upend our current paradigm about what science is and how it operates, and will help us build an even deeper understanding of the world around us.

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A Silent Killer: Tracking the Spread of Xylella fastidiosa 

Olive tree infected with X. fastidiosa
Olive tree infected with X. fastidiosa

Thought to have arrived in Italy on a plant imported from Costa Rica in 2008, the plant pathogen Xylella fastidiosa was first detected there in 2013. Its subsequent unchecked spread resulted in the loss of millions of olive trees across Southern Apulia, a region in Italy responsible for the production of roughly 12% of the world’s olive oil (5). The pathogen moved swiftly and, to date, a total of 20 million olive trees have been infected across Europe.  

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Discovering Cyclic Peptides with a “One-Pot” Synthesis and Screening Method

In the evolving landscape of drug discovery, cyclic peptides represent an exciting opportunity. These compounds offer a unique balance of size and specificity that positions them to bridge the gap between small molecule drugs and larger biologics like antibodies.

However, most cyclic peptides demonstrate low oral bioavailability: they are digested in the stomach before they can enter the bloodstream, or they’re not absorbed into the bloodstream by the gastrointestinal tract and can have little therapeutic effect (1). Biologics face a similar challenge and are administered intravenously rather than with a more convenient pill form.

A 384 well plate next to a collection of pills of different sizes and shapes.

To address the challenge of low oral bioavailability of cyclic peptides, a team from the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland developed a “one-pot” method to synthesize a diverse library of cyclic peptides, which they then screened for stability, activity and permeability (1). Their method, which was published December 2023 in Nature Chemical Biology, streamlined the process of identifying and optimizing cyclic peptides and marked a substantial improvement from their earlier studies, where the developed cyclic peptides exhibited almost no oral bioavailability (%F). Using this new method, the team successfully developed a cyclic peptide with 18%F oral bioavailability in rats.

This blog covers the details of this study as well as a brief background on cyclic peptides.

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Will Artificial Intelligence (AI) Transform the Future of Life Science Research?

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).

AI personified looking at a dna double helix against an abstract cosmic background
Image generated with Adobe Firefly v.2.

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.

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Designing Science: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Our Recent Journal Cover Art

A 3D illustration showing RAF inhibitor LXH254 engages BRAF or CRAF protomers (orange), but spares ARAF (red). Unoccupied ARAF is competent to trigger downstream mitogenic signaling, which is demonstrated with lightning bolts. Red cells in the background are fluorescently labeled RAS proteins, expressed in live cells. The Cell Chemical Biology cover type superimposes the image.
Image adapted from original artwork by iSO-FORM LLC.

We made the cover! Of Cell Chemical Biology, that is.

This July, Cell Chemical Biology editors accepted a study from Promega scientists and invited the research team to submit cover art for the issue. The study in question details a BRET-based method to quantify drug-target occupancy within RAF-KRAS complexes in live cells. Promega scientists Matt Robers and Jim Vasta collaborated with one of our talented designers, Michael Stormberg, to craft an image that accurately represents the science in a dynamic and engaging way.

You can check out the paper and cover art in the November 16 issue of Cell Chemical Biology.

I spoke with Michael Stormberg to learn more about the creative process that went into creating this cover art and how he worked with the research team and other collaborators.

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Reviewing the Importance of circRNA

In recent years following the COVID-19 pandemic, RNA has gained attention for its successes and potential use in vaccines and therapeutics. One avenue of interest in RNA research is a non-coding class of RNA first identified almost 50 years ago, circular RNA (circRNA).

In 1976, Sanger et al. first identified circRNA in plant viroids, and later additions to the field found them in mice, humans, nematodes, and other groups. Unlike linear RNA, circRNA are covalently closed loops that don’t have a 5′ cap or 3′ polyadenylated tail. Following its discovery, researchers thought circRNA was the product of a rare splicing event caused by an error in mRNA formation leading to low interest in researching the subject (1).

In the early 2010s, following the development of high throughput RNA sequencing technology, Salzman et al. determined that circRNAs were not a result of misplicing, but a stable, conserved, and widely sourced form of RNA with biological importance. Since noncoding RNA makes up the majority of the transcriptome it’s an incredibly important field of study. We now recognize circRNAs for their potential as disease biomarkers and importance in researching human disease (2).

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Insects and Science: Optimizing Work with Sf9 Insect Cells

Insects are a keystone species in the animal kingdom, often providing invaluable benefits to terrestrial ecosystems and useful services to mankind. While many of them are seen as pests (think mosquitos), others are important for pollination, waste management, and even scientific research.

Insect biotechnology, or the use of insect-derived molecules and cells to develop products, is applied in a diverse set of scientific fields including agricultural, industrial, and medical biotechnology. Insect cells have been central to many scientific advances, being utilized in recombinant protein, baculovirus, and vaccine and viral pesticide production, among other applications (5).

Therefore, as the use of insect cells becomes more widespread, understanding how they are produced, their research applications, and the scientific products that can be used with them is crucial to fostering further scientific advancements.

Primary Cell Cultures and Cell Lines

Cell culture - Cell lines - Insect Cells

In general, experimentation with individual cells, rather than full animal models, is advantageous due to improved reproducibility, decreased space requirements, less ethical concerns, and a reduction in expense. This makes primary cell cultures and cell lines essential contributors to basic scientific research.

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