Meet the Mighty Masked Masters of Measurement

Scientific investigation is an iterative process, for which reproducibility is key. Reproducibility, in turn, requires accuracy and precision—particularly in measurement. The unsung superheroes of accuracy and precision in the research lab are the members of your local Metrology Department. According to Promega Senior Metrologist, Keela Sniadach, it’s good when the metrology department remains unsung and behind the scenes because that means everything is working properly.

Holy Pipettes, Scientists! We have a metrology department?! Wait…what’s metrology again?

Callibration technician checks out a multipipettorMetrology (the scientific study of measurement) got its start in France, when it was proposed that an international length standard be based on a natural source. It was from this start that the International System of Units (SI), the modern metric system of measurement, was born.

Metrology even has its own day: May 20, which is the anniversary of the day that the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM) was created by the Meter Convention in Paris in 1875. The job of BIPM is to ensure worldwide standards of measurement.

For life scientists, metrology centers around making sure the equipment used everyday—from pipettes to heating blocks to centrifuges—is calibrated and measuring correctly. Continue reading “Meet the Mighty Masked Masters of Measurement”

Deep in the Jungle Something Is Happening: DNA Sequencing

This blog was written by guest blogger and 2018 Promega Social Media Intern Logan Godfrey.

Only 30 years ago, the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) was used for the first time, allowing the exponential amplification of a specific DNA segment. A small amount of DNA could now be replicated until there was enough of it to study accurately, even allowing sequencing of the amplified DNA. This was a massive breakthrough that produced immediate effects in the fields of forensics and life science research. Since these technologies were first introduced however, the molecular biology research laboratory has been the sole domain of PCR and DNA sequencing.

While an amazing revolution, application of a technology such as DNA sequencing is limited by the size and cost of DNA sequencers, which in turn restricts accessibility. However, recent breakthroughs are allowing DNA sequencing to take place in jungles, the arctic, and even space—giving science the opportunity to reach further, faster than ever before. 

Gideon Erkenswick begins extractions on fecal samples collected from wild tamarins in 2017. Location: The GreenLab, Inkaterra.

Gideon Erkenswick begins extractions on fecal samples collected from wild tamarins in 2017. Location: The GreenLab, Inkaterra. Photo credit: Field Projects International.

The newfound accessibility of DNA sequencing means a marriage between fields of science that were previously largely unacquainted. The disciplines of genomics and wildlife biology/ecology have largely progressed independently. Wildlife biology is practiced in the field through observations and macro-level assessments, and genomics, largely, has developed in a lab setting. Leading the charge in the convergence of wildlife biology and genomics is Field Projects International. 

Continue reading “Deep in the Jungle Something Is Happening: DNA Sequencing”

FutureQuest17: Dynamic Career Exploration for Middle School Students

Isabel Agasie speaks with middle school students at FutureQuest 17.
Isabel Agasie speaks with middle school students at FutureQuest 17.

The Dane County School Consortium and the Madison Metropolitan School District’s Career and Technical Education Division collaborated to offer FutureQuest17 on December 6th at the Alliant Energy Center.  Designed as a hands-on experience for Dane County middle school students to explore areas of potential interest within a 16 career cluster, over 70 companies provided information and activities for 5300+ attendees.

BTC Institute staff members (Isabel Agasie, Amy Prevost and Karin Borgh) and volunteer Promega production scientists (Molly Nyholm and Kay Rashka) created a lively table area that focused on bioluminescence. Our space included opportunities to see an illustration of the range of careers in a biotechnology company like Promega, practice with different sizes of pipettes, view glowing recombinant luciferase, watch a scrolling slide show illustrating bioluminescence both in nature and in the lab and consider why a scientist might be interested in bioluminescence as a research tool.

Most importantly, we were able to engage in many wonderful conversations, and for this we needed all five of us since the schedule for the day included 14 periods of 20 minutes each—our estimate is that we were able to speak with ~40–50 students during each of these cycles!

As Molly noted:

The questions students asked were fantastic!!  “What is the chemical composition of this luciferin solution?”  “How much money do you make?”  “Do all glowing creatures have the same luciferase enzyme or are they different?”  “Are there any bioluminescent fish in Wisconsin?”  “Do I have to go to school for as long as you did if I want to be a scientist?”  “What pH is this solution?”  “Does this have potassium or sodium iodide?”  “Can I do an internship?”  “Can I be on the culinary team at Promega?”  “Does my glow paint have luciferase in it?”  “Do you have to take luciferase and luciferin out of those creatures or is there a way to make it in the lab?”

Kay Rashka works with students at FutureQuest17.
Kay Rashka works with students at FutureQuest17.

And, Isabel added:

It was really great to connect with students and also with teachers. Lots of fun being surrounded by kids and fantastic adults. Some kids were surprised to learn that a biotechnology company hires people in other areas besides science. They asked about diversity and were very glad to hear that there are many different kinds of jobs in biotech companies.

Some of the other presenters in the STEM area of the event that we were in close proximity to included: the City of Madison Engineering Division (where students could construct marble runs that represented water flow), Saris (where students could ride bikes set up to display a training program), Laser Tag (try it out!), very active construction companies’ hammering stations and the MG&E’s electric car. In other words, the level of activity was high, and it was wonderful to contribute to this event—we’ll be back next year!

Promega Tech Tours 2017: The Power to Solve for the Forensic Community

Governor John Bel Edwards of Louisiana made an appearance at the Promega Technology Tour in Baton Rouge. Pictures courtesy of Forensic Scientists at the Louisiana State Police.

2017 finds Promega on the road visiting cities all across the United States. This year we are presenting workshops from leaders in the forensics community on topics like maximizing success with challenging samples, improving laboratory efficiency and reducing backlogs, and new tools and technologies for the forensics laboratory. This highly popular workshop series is a great way to learn from your peers about new techniques and workflows and network with other forensics experts in your region.

There are several more tours left between now and the end of 2017. Find out if we are coming to a city near you and register today!

Just in Time for Wisconsin’s Invasive Species Month: Goats

Invasive kudzu vine
Invasive kudzu vine covering a forest

“In Georgia, the legend says
That you must close your windows
At night to keep it out of the house
The glass is tinged with green, even so
As tendrils crawl over the fields…”
—James Dickey (1)

I grew up in Georgia, where on a hot, humid summer day you could almost hear the hiss of growing vegetation, especially the Kudzu as it climbed over fence posts and encroached upon the roadside, the king of invasive species. In Florida you worry about the alligators along the roadside if you have a flat tire; in Georgia, beware the Kudzu.

Invasive species, animal and plant, are an issue in all ecosytems. Imported from distant (and not-so-distant) areas both by accident and misguided intent, invasive species are species that have escaped the checks and balances of natural competitors and predators that existed in their native habitats. This lack of predation and competition enables them to outcompete and overrun other species.

Kudzu may be one of the most recognized invasive species in the United States, but it’s probably not the worst. The zebra mussel is an aquatic animal that has invaded our waterways in Wisconsin. Oak savannahs and prairie ecosystems in the Midwest United States are threatened by many invasive plant species like garlic mustard and blister parsnip. The Wisconsin DNR lists nearly 150 restricted and/or prohibited invasive plant species in Wisconsin, including Kudzu (2). Continue reading “Just in Time for Wisconsin’s Invasive Species Month: Goats”

Biotech Manufacturing: A Good Machinist is Critical for Your Laboratory Reagents

Travis Beyer, Machinist Technician, at the CNC milling machine in the Promega machine shop.
Travis Beyer, Machinist Technician, at the CNC milling machine in the Promega machine shop.

It can be easy to forget that Promega is a manufacturing business. Hidden within the well-designed walls of the company’s cGMP Feynman Center, as well as in other facilities on the Madison campus, technicians operate hundreds of machines that manufacture, dispense and package Promega reagents day in and day out. Keeping those high-tech machines running at peak performance is critical, requiring immense skill, precision and even artistry. That’s where Promega Machinist Technician Travis Beyer comes in.

“I get to make stuff,” says Travis who is not afraid to show his enthusiasm for his craft while describing the best part of his job. “There’s a product at the end of the day. Plus I get to support science, and make things that support people’s lives. That’s cool.”

 I get to make stuff. There’s a product at the end of the day. Plus I get to support science, and make things that support people’s lives. That’s cool.

The da Vinci Center, another artfully designed building on the Madison campus, houses the Promega machine shop where Travis does his work designing or improving on parts for newer manufacturing equipment or reverse engineering broken or worn parts no longer available for older equipment that still serves its purpose. He makes every machine part imaginable from drive shafts to sensor brackets to filling forks, and his work is critical to manufacturing businesses like Promega, where a downed piece of equipment can cause costly production delays.

An example of a machine part that Travis designs or reverse engineers and then builds to keep Promega manufacturing moving smoothly.
An example of a machine part that Travis designs or reverse engineers and then builds to keep Promega manufacturing moving smoothly.

As he explains, not many manufacturing companies the size of Promega have a fully capable machine shop. They usually send out their work, meaning longer lead times and more expense. But, as its distinctive architecture suggests, Promega is not like many other companies. Continue reading “Biotech Manufacturing: A Good Machinist is Critical for Your Laboratory Reagents”

Meet Jonelle Thompson, Validation Services Manager for the Spectrum CE Instrument

29160613_lPromega will soon introduce the Spectrum CE System for forensic and paternity analysis. Building this system requires the efforts of many people from many disciplines—from our customers who have told us their needs to the engineers and scientists building the instrument and ensuring its performance. Periodically we will introduce our Promega Connections readers to a team member so that you can have a sneak peak and behind-the-scenes look at Spectrum CE System  and the people who are creating it (of course if you truly want to be the first to know, sign up at www.promega.com/spectrum to receive regular, exclusive updates about Spectrum CE).

Today we introduce Jonelle Thompson, Validation Services Manager. Continue reading “Meet Jonelle Thompson, Validation Services Manager for the Spectrum CE Instrument”

Careers in Science: Kris Pearson, Custom/OEM Production Manager

It began at a sink. Advancing from Dishwasher to Production Manager might seem like an unusual career path, but after speaking with Kris Pearson, the Custom/OEM Production Manager at Promega, it appears perfectly ordinary. I was thrilled to meet with her and discuss both the broad strokes and gritty details of working in Custom/OEM Manufacturing. Continue reading “Careers in Science: Kris Pearson, Custom/OEM Production Manager”

What I Learned at My First Branch Meeting: Gratitude, Service and Collaboration

Today’s blog post is written by guest blogger Sarah Kolb, Marketing Coordinator for our North America Branch, and new employee at Promega.

As a new member to the North America Marketing team, I was unsure of what to expect going into my first national sales meeting with Promega, but what I took away from this meeting was incredibly eye opening. The North America Branch Sales meeting is an opportunity to get all of the members of the North American branch together to learn about new products, connect with the different strategic business units about product application and network with each other to learn how to better the lives of our customers. The year’s meeting occurred in May in the Ideation room at Promega Headquarters in Madison, Wisconsin.

NA branch meeting

The room itself is not your typical conference space. An antique car resides in the space, and you can find art-work from all over world nestled in corners, and on the walls and shelves. All around the room, collections of unique furniture are arranged to stimulate conversation. Ideation created an atmosphere of creativity, community and collaboration, which contributed to the overall success of the meeting.

I felt excitement Monday morning as the 62 attendees gathered in the space. Everyone greeted each other with big smiles and hugs, asking about families, travels and already discussing business. Continue reading “What I Learned at My First Branch Meeting: Gratitude, Service and Collaboration”

The Making of a Promega Product: Teamwork = Success for the Maxwell RSC® ccfDNA Plasma Kit

Ever think about the kinds of challenges R&D scientists run up against in the course of developing a new product? The development of the Maxwell® RSC ccfDNA (circulating cell-free DNA) Plasma Kit is a particularly interesting example. Its path to commercialization was characterized by a number of unexpected technical hurdles, yet each was overcome through creative troubleshooting and aided by valuable collaborations across departments. All had a hand in finally launching the kit last August.

26062525-ccfDNA_Mar25-blog-DNAThe product’s launch was an exciting milestone for Promega as research interest in the role of ccfDNA as biomarkers in human disease continues to grow. Elevated levels of ccfDNA have now been reported in patients with cancer, inflammatory disease, infections and cardiovascular disease. In pregnant women, up to 10% of ccfDNA can be attributed to the fetus, so critical fetal DNA analysis can now be conducted through maternal blood samples. There are many advantages in the ability to isolate and analyze ccfDNA, so the development of a kit with high throughput capability was a priority for the Nucleic Acid Purification R&D team. Continue reading “The Making of a Promega Product: Teamwork = Success for the Maxwell RSC® ccfDNA Plasma Kit”