Connecting and Collaborating: How Scientists Across the Globe are Supporting Each Other During The COVID-19 Pandemic

Many research labs around the world have temporarily closed their doors in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, while others are experiencing unprecedented need for reagents to perform viral testing. This urgency has led many scientists to make new connections and build creative, collaborative solutions.

“In labs that are still open for testing or other purposes, there’s certainly heightened anxiety,” says Tony Vanden Bush, Client Support Specialist. “I feel that right now, I need to help them deal with that stress however possible.”

Last week, Tony was contacted by a lab at the University of Minnesota that was preparing to serve as a secondary COVID-19 testing facility for a nearby hospital lab. The two labs needed to process up to 6,000 samples per day, and the university lab was far short of that capacity.

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RNA Extraction for Clinical Testing—Do Not Try this with Home-brew

This blog was written with much guidance from Jennifer Romanin, Senior Director IVD Operations and Global Service and Support, and Ron Wheeler, Senior Director, Quality Assurance and Regulatory Affairs at Promega.

A Trip Down Memory Lane

Back in the day when we all walked two miles uphill in the snow to get to our laboratories, RNA and DNA extraction was a home-brew experience. You made your own buffers, prepped your own columns and spent hours lysing cells, centrifuging samples, and collecting that fluorescing, ethidium bromide-stained band of RNA in the dark room from a tube suspended over a UV box. Just like master beer brewers tweak their protocols to produce better brews, you could tweak your methodology and become a “master isolater” of RNA. You might get mostly consistent results, but there was no guarantee that your protocol would work as well in the hands of a novice.

Enter the biotechnology companies with RNA and DNA isolation kits—kits and columns manufactured under highly controlled conditions delivering higher quality and reproducibility than your home-brew method. These systems have enabled us to design ever more sensitive downstream assays–assays that rely on high-quality input DNA and RNA, like RT-qPCR assays that can detect the presence of a specific RNA molecule on a swab containing only a few hundred cells. With these assays, contaminants from a home-brew isolation could result in false positives or false negatives or simply confused results. Reagents manufactured with pre-approved standard protocols in a highly controlled environment are critical for ultra sensitive tests and assays like the ones used to detect SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19).

The Science of Manufacturing Tools for Scientists

There are several criteria that must be met if you are producing systems that will be sent to different laboratories, used by different people with variable skill sets, yet yield results that can be compared from lab to lab.

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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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Building a Collaborative Research Network to Address a Rare Disease

Early June 2016

Chris had extreme leg pain off and on for about a month. Pain that came and went, creeping in slowly but sometimes with extreme intensity. Based on x-rays an orthopedist diagnosed a torn hamstring that was on the mend. We were sent home to rest and ice his muscles.

One Sunday Chris played in the pool for 5 hours straight and didn’t wince once. The following week he was fine so he went to soccer practice on Wednesday and swim team practice the next day. At 11:30 that night he woke up screaming in pain. Same leg. Same spot. Back again.

Late June 2016

We were on vacation in Greece. The pain started again, severe and intense and scary, so bad he couldn’t sleep lying down in a bed.  Desperate, we ended up in a Greek hospital… the local pediatrician was wonderful and recommended we fly home and see an orthopedic doctor as soon as possible…a terrifying flight home: No answers and a pit in our stomachs. Chris was in a wheelchair.

July 2016

We finally got the orthopedist to order the MRI. The MRI results were what every parent fears: “leukemia or lymphoma” and a referral to an oncologist.  After many invasive tests, the oncologist said it was probably not cancer.  We felt such relief, but we were left with no answers for all his pain. We moved on to infectious disease.

August 2016

The infectious disease specialist said they could not culture anything so they didn’t believe that Chris had an infection. Again, incomplete answers.  We were then passed off to rheumatology.  The frustration of not having any answers and our child still in pain was heart-breaking, isolating, and terrifying.

Based on the bone biopsy and MRIs the rheumatologists finally gave Chris a diagnosis: Chronic Recurrent Multifocal Osteomyelitis (CRMO often pronounced “chromo” for short).

The good news: it was not cancer; the bad news: very little is known about CRMO because it is a rare disease.

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A Quick Guide To Finding That Next Step After A Post-Doc

On February 13, 2020, a group of post-docs from the University of Wisconsin – Madison had the opportunity to spend a day at the Promega headquarters in Fitchburg, WI. Throughout the day, the group heard from a list of speakers including Tom Livelli, VP of Life Sciences, and representatives from Technical Services, Sales, R&D and Marketing. The day concluded with a tour of the Feynman Manufacturing Center, where attendees saw production and packing lines, as well as training and QC labs.

Promega employees and UW Post-Docs having lunch

On February 13, 2020, a group of post-docs from the University of Wisconsin – Madison had the opportunity to spend a day at the Promega headquarters in Fitchburg, WI. Throughout the day, the group heard from a list of speakers including Tom Livelli, VP of Life Sciences, and representatives from Technical Services, Sales, R&D and Marketing. The day concluded with a tour of the Feynman Manufacturing Center, where attendees saw production and packing lines, as well as training and QC labs.

“It’s always encouraging as a scientist to hear about how each person is different and how they’ve had different twists and turns,” says Alexa Heaton, a post-doc studying immunotherapy interactions in mice. “It’s great to hear from such a range of people and the different job types I could consider.”

To recap the day, we’ve captured a few of the biggest takeaways below.

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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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Tidying Up With Promega R&D: Spectrometer From Space?

Later this year, Promega will open a new R&D building with more than twice the current amount of lab space available on the Madison campus. While preparing to move to the new building, R&D scientists are cleaning out decades of scientific history housed in some of the older labs. Meagan Eggers, Promega Strategic Information Partner, is collaborating with the research groups to document and preserve noteworthy artifacts unearthed in the Research & Development Center. Over the next few months, we’ll showcase some of the most interesting things we find.

Spectrometer – 1960s-2000

Promega research scientists began investigating bioluminescent proteins in the early 1990s. One of the most important tools in this research was the spectrometer pictured above, which was used to measure the emission spectra of many different organisms. Before it arrived at Promega, however, this spectrometer began in the space program.

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How Does Our Garden Grow?

It’s the time of year in the northern US when you start to the miss green grass, ample daylight and warm breezes that are still months away. The promise of spring’s renewal and seedlings sprouting from the snow-covered ground seems too far out to even indulge in a daydream of better weather.

But then again, I’m not a farmer.                                                    

The Promega Culinary Garden at Bluebird Farms.

Now is the time of year when farmers are reflecting on last year’s harvest, making decisions about changes that need to be made and planning for the upcoming growing season. This work includes choosing what plants and varieties will be planted, estimating how many of each are needed and ordering the seeds. Crop rotation and cover crops are also part of the considerations.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you may know that Promega has a culinary garden that supplies some of the produce for our cafeterias on the Madison campus. During the growing season our Culinary Gardener, Logan Morrow, oversees the operations of Bluebird Farms with the help of his colleage Mike Daugherty.

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Enhancing Creativity: The Promega Employee Art Show 2020

What hangs in the hallways of your workplace? Advertising? Awards? Commercially-sourced artwork? The Promega campus in Madison, WI, is composed of eight buildings. In many of these buildings you’ll find all of the above.

But as you enter the atrium of the BTC (Biopharmaceutical Technology Center) building where the Employee Art Show hangs, you’re greeted by handmade, homemade artwork, including drawings, ceramics, paintings, photographs and quilts.

Promega employees examine artwork in the BTC during the 2020 Employee Art Show opening.

These art pieces hold the distinction of being created by talented Promega employees, their families and friends. The annual Promega Employee Art Show opened Friday, January 17, with approximately 150 works displayed, including pieces created by parents of employees, employees and their children. These art pieces are on display to the public through the end of February 2020.

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Green Chemistry is Better Chemistry

When you think of sustainability, what comes to mind? Immediately, my brain imagines vast collections of plastic in the ocean and carbon emissions from millions of cars. I’m guessing that, like me, you didn’t think about optimizing the synthesis of chemical reactions to reduce toxicity or energy usage. Although we’re often focused on the more visible forms of waste, sustainability applies to an enormous range of human activities.

Promega is committed to integrating the principles of sustainability across all aspects of our business. One recent area of focus for our PBI branch is a shift toward Green Chemistry. PBI synthesizes reagents and small molecules used in Promega products. After deciding “it was the right thing to do for our customers and for the environment,” the leader of Promega’s Corporate Responsibility Program, Corey Meek, assembled a few individuals to start a conversation about implementing Green Chemistry principles.

“It was the right thing to do for our customers and for the environment.”

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