Elephants May Call Each Other By Name

Elephants intertwining trunks
New research points to the possible use of names among elephants in the African savanna

Names are part of something called “arbitrary communication”, wherein a sound represents an idea without imitating it. Where we have so far seen names used in nature, they are typically imitative—for instance, bottlenose dolphins and parrots mimic an individual’s signature call to get their attention. However, this differs from how humans refer to each other using an arbitrary or random sound chosen to represent an individual. The use of arbitrary language is a mark of linguistic complexity that moves beyond the limitations of imitative speech and expands expressive power into the potential exchange of intricate ideas, abstract concepts and symbolic thought.

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The Battle of Shiloh’s Angel’s Glow: Fact, Civil War Legend or Modern Myth? 

It sounds like the script for a Hollywood movie. The story, first appearing in 2001, begins with a purported civil war legend from the Battle of Shiloh. The legend said that the wounds of some soldiers glowed (faintly) in the dark. Soldiers with these glowing wounds were more apt to survive, giving the phenomenon the name “Angels Glow”. The story ends with two curious teenagers solving the mystery using their science fair project. They identify infection by the bioluminescent bacteria Photorhabdus luminescens (formerly Xenorhabdus luminescens) as the likely cause of the glowing wounds. P. luminescens produces bacteriocins (antimicrobial peptides), which the teenagers attribute to helping keep other infections at bay, resulting in the improved survival rate for the soldiers whose wounds glowed.

The teenagers win. The mystery is solved. The credits roll. 

Except life (and science) is rarely as simple as a summer block buster. 

Cannon at sunset on a civil war battlefield
The Battle of Shiloh took place in Hardin County Tennessee on April 6th and 7th, 1862.
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Revolutionizing Food Security: How Biotechnology Contributes to Sustainability and Safety

field of crops/food

Projections from the United Nations suggest that the global population reached 8 billion in 2022. By 2030, the United Nations expect the population will grow to 8.5 billion (1).  In order to sustain the rapidly expanding global population, innovative approaches in the agriculture sector are required to ensure food security and safety while maintaining sustainable practices.

Centuries of cultivating crops and raising livestock have honed our current agricultural methods. In the 21st century, these techniques encounter persistent challenges. Environmental factors such as soil degradation, water scarcity, and climate change pose significant threats to production. Additionally, the constant risks posed by pests and diseases can devastate both crops and livestock.

Read more about how the current avian flu crosses species and affects livestock.

The agriculture sector’s challenge of feeding the world sustainably lies in the limited access to natural resources like land and water. Unfortunately, these resources don’t grow with our population, so we need to find a way to increase productivity per unit of land (2). Ideally, using less water and potentially harmful pesticides.

Biotechnology offers innovative solutions that support sustainable agriculture practices to not only enhance food production, but also increase nutritional value and safety of our food supply.

Biotechnology in Agriculture: Enhancing Crop Yield and Resilience:

For much of the history of agriculture, breeding programs have involved selectively breeding desirable traits to increase yield, quality, and resilience. In the age of biotechnology, agriculturalists are revolutionizing this practice with the help of cloning and CRISPR technologies.

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Logistics Built to Deliver: Kepler Center and Beyond

In March 2024, Promega celebrated a significant milestone by completing extensive renovations to Kepler Center, the primary distribution warehouse located at Promega Madison. This massive expansion has increased the facility’s total area to an astounding 320,000 square feet (29,822 square meters).

So, what does this mean for you?

When you place an order from Promega, you can be confident your products will arrive on time. With customers in more than 120 countries, we have built a global logistics network that ensures quality and reliability from the warehouse to your lab. This expansion of Kepler Center enhances our ability to ensure prompt shipping, reaffirming our commitment to timely deliveries.

Delivering Products When You Need Them

Promega Madison ships directly to 40 countries. We maintain close relationships with domestic carriers and international freight forwarders to make sure packages are transported safely and efficiently. Some of these shipments go directly to customer labs, while others will stock distribution facilities around the world.

Promega has additional logistics warehouses strategically located around the world. These warehouses have much of the same capabilities as Kepler Center, such as a range of storage temperature capabilities including ambient, +4°C, -20°C, -70°C and liquid nitrogen cryogenic storage.

Our logistics teams around the world maintain local inventory and oversee the final delivery of orders. We share common processes around the world to ensure quality and continuity throughout the supply chain. These teams also work with our network of distributors to supply products to specific regions.

Our largest logistics facility outside the United States is the EuroHub, located in Walldorf, Germany. This 3,200 square foot (300 square meter) facility acts as a fulfillment agent, managing the entire logistics process to supply customers of every European branch. In 2023, almost 83,000 parcels were dispatched through the EuroHub.

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Mind Control, Mutilation and Death. The Fungal Fate That Lurks in Waiting for Emerging Periodical Cicadas

For the first time since Thomas Jefferson was president, broods of 13- and 17-year periodical cicadas are emerging from the ground at the same time. The fate that awaits some of these periodic cicadas—a fungal infection that hijacks their behavior and destroys their genitalia — sounds like the script of a bad zombie horror film. The culprit (or villain) is the entomopathogenic fungus Massospora cicadina.  

An adult red eyed 17-year periodical cicada sits on a leaf

While most entomopathogens kill their host before releasing their infectious spores, M. cicadina is one of the few species that increase spore dispersal by hijacking their host’s behavior and keeping them alive while sporulating (1). The manner it uses to do this is both gruesome and fascinating. If you can stomach some details of insect sex and dismemberment, read on.

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Measles and Immunosuppression—When Getting Well Means You Can Still Get Sick


In 2000 measles was officially declared eliminated in the United States (1), meaning there had been no disease transmission for over 12 months. Unfortunately it was not gone for good. So far in 2024 there have been 8 outbreaks and 131 cases. Ninety of these case (69%) are associated with an outbreak and seventy (53%) have resulted in hospitalization (as of May 2, 2024; 2).  

Help in Limiting a Dangerous Childhood Disease

Before the development of a vaccine in the 1960s, measles was practically a childhood rite of passage. This common childhood disease is not without teeth however. One out of every 20 children with measles develops pneumonia, 1 out of every 1,000 develops encephalitis (swelling of the brain), and 1 to 3 of every 1,000 dies from respiratory and neurological complications (3). Between the years of 1958 and 1962, the US averaged 503,282 reported cases of measles (4). The first measles vaccine was licensed in the U.S. by John Enders in 1963, and not surprisingly, after the measles vaccine became widely used, the number of cases of measles plummeted. By 1970, there were under 1,000 cases (2).

Decreased Childhood Mortality from Other Infectious Diseases—An Unexpected Benefit

What was surprising was that with the disappearance of this childhood disease, the number of childhood deaths from all infectious diseases dropped dramatically. As vaccination programs were instituted in England and parts of Europe, the same phenomenon was observed. Reduction or elimination of measles-related illness and death alone can’t explain the size of the decrease in childhood mortality. Although measles infection is associated with suppression of the immune system that will make the host vulnerable to other infections, these side effects were assumed to be short lived. In reality, the drop in mortality from infectious diseases following vaccination for measles lasted for years, not months (5).

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Community Canvas: Taylor McAda’s Vibrant Mural on Madison’s State Street

On April 21st, 2024, hundreds of volunteers accompanied four local artists in Madison, Wisconsin for a public painting event to help decorate the 400-600 blocks of State Street. This project is the first embodiment of the city of Madison’s pedestrian mall experiment, set to kick off in May. Taylor McAda, Promega Senior Graphic Designer, was selected to design and paint one of four original 20-foot circle murals.

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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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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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