Transform Your Research Lab with our Comprehensive Automation Resources

Futuristic Artificial Intelligence Robotic Arm Operates and Moves a Metal Object, Picks It Up and Puts it Down. Scene is Taken in a High Tech Research Laboratory with Modern Equipment.

In an era where science moves at a rapid pace, integrating automation into your lab is not just beneficial but essential. When you automate your lab, you free up an invaluable resource: time. From scaling up operations and handling increased demand to improving consistency and reducing manual errors, automation can be the key to achieving higher throughput, saving costs, and—most importantly—enabling researchers to focus on the science rather than the process. However, embarking on a lab automation project requires careful planning, clear goals and an understanding of the intricacies involved in automating complex biological workflows.

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Raising Frogs Takes a Village: Accelerating Amphibian Research at the Marine Biological Laboratory

Sally Seraphin and her students Maliah Ryan (second from right) and Jude Altman (right) work with a Promega Applications Scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory

Sally Seraphin’s life in the research lab started with rats and roseate terns. Chimpanzees and rhesus macaques came next, then humans (and a brief foray into voles). When she pivoted to red-eyed tree frogs, Sally once again had to learn all kinds of new techniques. Suddenly, in addition to new sample prep and analysis techniques, she needed to get up to speed on amphibian care and husbandry. That led her to the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole, MA.

“It’s a seaside resort atmosphere with experts in every technology you can imagine,” Sally says. “It’s a place to incubate and birth new approaches to answering questions.”

Sally spent the past two summers at MBL learning everything she needed to know about breeding and caring for amphibians. During that time, she also worked closely with Applications Scientists from Promega who helped her start extracting RNA from frog samples.

“The hands-on support from industry scientists is definitely unique to Promega and MBL,” she says. “It’s rare to have a specialist on hand who can help you learn, troubleshoot and optimize in such a finite amount of time.”

Adopting a New Model Organism

Sally uses red-eyed tree frogs to study early stress and developmental timing.
Sally uses red-eyed tree frogs to study early stress and developmental timing. Photo from Wikimedia.

Sally studies how early stress impacts brain and behavior development. She hopes to deepen our understanding of how adverse childhood experiences connect to mental illness and bodily disease later in life. In the past, she studied how factors such as parental absence affected the neurotransmission of dopamine in primates. Recently, she changed her focus to developmental timing.  

“Girls who are exposed to early trauma like sexual or physical abuse will sometimes reach puberty earlier than girls who aren’t,” Sally explains. “And I noticed that there are many species that will alter their developmental timing in response to predators or social and ecological threats.”

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Transforming Forensic Science with DNA from Dust

A ray of sun coming through the wooden shutters, illuminates dust on the inside of a dark room. Close up, selective focus. Vintage background. This image is licensed from Adobe Stock.

In the evolving field of forensic science, a study by Fantinato et al. has opened new avenues in using DNA extraction and analysis to recover important information from crime scenes. Their work, “The Invisible Witness: Air and Dust as DNA Evidence of Human Occupancy in Indoor Premises,” focuses on extracting DNA from air and dust. This novel approach could revolutionize how crime scenes are investigated, especially in scenarios where traditional evidence—like fingerprints or bodily fluids—is scarce, degraded or has been removed from surfaces.

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Exploring Instrumentation for Your Lab: Particle Movers vs. Liquid Handlers

There is no ‘One Size Fits All’ solution to lab automation, and finding the right solution for your lab can have a lasting impact on your labs efficiency and data quality.

Some laboratory processes are time-consuming and tedious. Automation highly manual processes such as nucleic acid extraction can increase your lab’s throughput and improve the overall consistency of your results. Unfortunately choosing and implementing one of these systems can seem overwhelming. As you begin to evaluate the automation needs of your lab, one of the first decision points is the type of platform you need. Do you need a liquid handler or a magnetic particle mover?

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Streamlining Disease Diagnostics to Protect Potato Crops

A potato farmer holds a handful of potatoes. Scientists are working to protect potato crops from disease.
The WSPCP works to provide seed potato growers with healthy planting stock

The mighty potato—the Midwest’s root vegetable of choice—is susceptible to a variety of diseases that, without proper safeguards, can spell doom for your favorite side dishes. Founded in 1913 and housed in the Department of Plant Pathology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Wisconsin Seed Potato Certification Program (WSPCP) helps Wisconsin seed potato growers maintain healthy, profitable potato crops year-to-year through routine field inspections, a post-harvest grow-out and laboratory testing.

While WSPCP conducts visual inspections for various seed potato pathogens, their diagnostic laboratory testing is primarily focused on viruses such as Potato virus Y (PVY), which can cause yield reduction and tuber defects, along with select bacteria such as Dickeya and Pectobacterium species that cause symptoms like wilting, stem rot and tuber decay.

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The Largest Maxprep Liquid Handler Installation Ever: Kigali Rwanda, 2022

“It was just a sea of Promega everywhere,” says Rebecca Roberts, a Promega Field Applications Scientist. “Floor to ceiling, piled up with Maxwell instruments, Maxprep Liquid Handlers, all the accessories and consumables…”

In her role on the Field Application Scientists team, Rebecca travels the United States installing the Maxprep Liquid Handler in customer labs and training scientists to operate the system and incorporate it into their workflow. This instrument automates the pre- and post-processing steps in a nucleic acid purification workflow. It’s a large and sophisticated instrument that takes up roughly four feet of lab bench space and weighs up to 220 pounds. It is intended for research use only, but during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Maxprep Liquid Handler, Maxwell RSC 48 Instrument, and several Maxwell purification kits were recommended for nucleic acid extraction protocols in the CDC 2019-Novel Coronavirus Real-Time RT-PCR Diagnostic Panel Emergency Use Authorization (EUA).  

When an instrument is sold, Rebecca and a Service Engineer spend three days on-site installing it and training a small group of staff to use it. One Maxprep instrument at a time is typical. On rare occasions, Rebecca might install two on a single trip. However, in 2022, Rebecca joined a multinational team of Promega scientists and engineers in Kigali, Rwanda for an order that was anything but typical.

Promega field applications scientists install a Maxprep Liquid Handler in a small room that already holds two more liquid handlers.
Field Application Scientists Rebecca Roberts, Ben Cooley and Lucy Swithenbank install a Maxprep Liquid Handler in Kigali, Rwanda

“We knew a large order from this customer was a possibility,” Rebecca says, “But I certainly wasn’t expecting an order of ten.”

This was the largest installation of Maxprep instruments Promega has ever seen from a single order. The customer also had a hard deadline that required delivery, installation and training to be complete in only six weeks – half the time usually quoted for a single instrument.

In the end, ten Maxprep instruments were installed at the National Reference Laboratory in Kigali, and more than twenty people were trained to use the systems for RNA extraction to support COVID-19 testing at a major international meeting. The order was a success, but that six week journey was a wild ride that depended on the hard work and dedication of Promega teams on both sides of the Atlantic.

And the impact of this work is still growing.

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Shifting Gears: Repurposing Instruments for Changing Needs

Sarah Teter operates the Tecan Freedom EVO 150 liquid handler
Sarah Teter operates the Tecan Freedom EVO 150

The thought of an expensive instrument falling out of use and gathering dust on the shelf is enough to bring a tear to any lab manager’s eye. An instrument that once served a key purpose and now functions only as a “paperweight” is a tragic waste of valuable resources. Fortunately, it is sometimes possible to breathe new life into neglected tools and to retrofit or repurpose equipment to meet the new needs that will inevitably arise in a changing lab environment.  

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Our Top Three Most-Viewed Blog Posts of 2022

In 2022, our bloggers wrote on topics ranging from monkeypox outbreaks to cultured meat in biotech labs to preventing the next pandemic. Our top three most-viewed blog posts this year have the commonality of Promega products helping to advance important research in different fields and push science a step forward in the world. Take a look at Promega’s top three most-viewed blog posts of 2022.

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Growing Our Understanding of Rose Rosette Virus Through Reverse Genetics

Viral particle representing lethal Rose Rosette Emaravirus with red rose.

Roses, the universal symbol of love and affection, are one of the most popular ornamental flowering shrubs used by landscapers and home gardeners and account for almost half of the billion-dollar ornamental plant market. The growing prevalence of rose rosette disease poses a significant threat to these industries.  This lethal disease is caused by the Rose rosette emaravirus (RRV) and transmitted by the tiny eriophyid mite, Phyllocoptes fructiphilus. Infection by RRV results in prolific growth of clustered and bunched plant shoots (witches’ broom), malformed flowers and leaves, malformed shoots and enlarged stems and abundant leaf growth and thorniness. This excessive growth depletes the plant’s energy, eventually causing death.

Emerging and Devastating Plant Viruses of the Genus Emaravirus

RRV is a single-stranded, segmented, negative-sense RNA virus belonging to the genus Emaravirus, a relatively new genus that was established in 2012. These emerging viruses can be devastating to trees, herbaceous woody plants and vines. At Texas A&M University, Dr. Jeanmarie Verchot’s lab is working to better characterize and understand these new viruses. In addition to threatening roses, these viruses cause damage to important agriculture crops such as wheat and pigeon peas. They also endanger sensitive ecosystems when they infect plants specialized to a particular habitat, as is the case with Palo verde broom virus infection of palo verde trees of the Sonoran Desert (1).

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Will This Kit Work with My Sample Type?

Whether you are working with cells, tissues or blood—making sure you use the correct assay system is critical for success.

In Technical Services, we frequently answer questions about whether a kit will work with a particular type of sample. An easy way to find out if other researchers have already tested your sample type of interest is to search a citation database such as Pub Med for the name of the kit and your specific sample type. We also have a searchable peer-reviewed citations database on our web site for papers that specifically cite use of our products. And on many of our product pages, you can find a list of papers that cite use of those products. In Technical Services, we are happy to help you in this search and let you know if scientists here at Promega have tested a particular application or sample type. This information provides a good starting point to optimize your own experiments.

One common question is “can the Caspase-Glo® Assays be used with tissue homogenates?” While Promega has not tested the Caspase-Glo® Assays with tissue homogenates, scientists outside of Promega have used the assays with tissue homogenates with success. As with almost all of our kits, Resources are provided on the catalog page including a list of Citations. As an example, here is a link to the Citations for the Caspase-Glo® 3/7 Assay Systems. We also have an article highlighting a citation on detecting caspase activities in mouse liver. A variety of lysis buffers have been used to make tissue homogenates for this application. To avoid nonspecific protein degradation, it is useful to include a protease inhibitor cocktail in the lysis buffer. The use of protease inhibitors doesn’t usually affect our assay chemistries. Additionally, many commercially available protease inhibitor sets can be used that do not contain caspase inhibitors. It is important to consider the specificity of the kit being used and include proper controls to ensure that the luciferase reaction is performing as expected. For more information on citations and example protocols, feel free to contact us here at Technical Services and we can help get you started with your sample type.