Working with RNA doesn’t have to be a nightmare

We’re all familiar with the Central Dogma of Molecular Biology: DNA is transcribed into RNA, which is translated into proteins. It’s drilled into our heads from the early days of biology classes, and it’s surprisingly useful when we start exploring in our own research projects. For example, if you’re interested in gene expression, you’ll most likely be working with RNA, specifically mRNA. Messenger RNA (mRNA) is transcribed from DNA and is used by ribosomes as a “template” for a specific protein. The total mRNA in a cell represents all of the genes that are actively being transcribed. So, if you want to know whether or not a gene is being transcribed, RNA purification is a great place to start.

When preparing your RNA samples for a downstream assay, there are several roadblocks and pitfalls that could give you quite a headache. Let’s tackle two of the most common.

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Beneath the Writing: Non-Invasive DNA Sampling from Modern and Historic Writing Surfaces

We can learn a lot about the past and its people from the written records of the time. What people write and how they write it can gives us glimpses into historical events, interpersonal relationships, social standing and even social and cultural norms. From paper to papyrus to clay tablets, the surface that holds the writing can tell us things that the words cannot.

For plant-based writing surfaces, the quality of the surface or even the technique used to make it can give historians and archeologists insight into the people who used them. What more could we learn if we knew what plant, or plants, were used in the production of ancient writing material? Continue reading

High-Throughput Purification with Experts Included

Implementing automated nucleic acid purification or making changes to your high-throughput (HT) workflow can be complicated and time-consuming. There are also many barriers to success such as challenging samples types and maintaining desirable downstream results that can add to the stress, not to mention actually getting the robotic instrumentation to do what you want it to. All of this makes it easy to understand why many labs avoid automating or own expensive instrumentation that goes unused. Continue reading

Biotechnology From the Mouths of Babes

As a science writer, much of my day entails reviewing and revising marketing materials and technical literature about complex life science research products. I take for granted the understanding that I, my colleagues and our customers have of how these technologies work. This fact really struck me as I read an article about research to improve provider-patient communication in healthcare settings.

The researchers completed an analysis revealing that patient information materials had an average readability at a high school level, while the average patient reads at a fourth-grade level. These findings inspired the researchers to conduct a study in which they enlisted the help of elementary students to revise the content of the patient literature after giving them a short lesson on the material.

The resulting content did not provide more effective ways to communicate indications, pre- and post-op care, risks or procedures—that wasn’t really the point. Instead, the study underscores the important connection between patient literacy and health outcomes. More specifically, a lack of health literacy is correlated with poor outcomes and increased healthcare costs, prompting action from the US Department of Health & Human Services.

While healthcare information can be complex and full of specific medical terminology, I recognized that a lot of the technical and marketing information we create for our products at Promega has similar features. Wouldn’t it be interesting to find out how descriptions of some of our biggest technologies translate through the eyes and mouths of children?

After enlisting some help from my colleagues, I was able to catch a glimpse of how our complex technologies are understood by the little people in our lives. The parents and I explained a technology and then had our child provide a description or drawing of what they understood. Continue reading

Better NGS Size Selection

One of the most critical parts of a Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) workflow is library preparation and nearly all NGS library preparation methods use some type of size-selective purification. This process involves removing unwanted fragment sizes that will interfere with downstream library preparation steps, sequencing or analysis.

Different applications may involve removing undesired enzymes and buffers or removal of nucleotides, primers and adapters for NGS library or PCR sample cleanup. In dual size selection methods, large and small DNA fragments are removed to ensure optimal library sizing prior to final sequencing. In all cases, accurate size selection is key to obtaining optimal downstream performance and NGS sequencing results.

Current methods and chemistries for the purposes listed above have been in use for several years; however, they are utilized at the cost of performance and ease-of-use. Many library preparation methods involve serial purifications which can result in a loss of DNA. Current methods can result in as much as 20-30% loss with each purification step. Ultimately this may necessitate greater starting material, which may not be possible with limited, precious samples, or the incorporation of more PCR cycles which can result in sequencing bias. Sample-to-sample reproducibility is a daily challenge that is also regularly cited as an area for improvement in size-selection.

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Of Elephant Research and Wildlife Crime – Molecular Tools that Matter

Here at Promega we receive some interesting requests…

Take the case of Virginia Riddle Pearson, elephant scientist. Three years ago we received an email from Pearson requesting a donation of GoTaq G2 Taq polymerase to take with her to Africa for her field work on elephant herpesvirus. Working out of her portable field lab (a tent) in South Africa and Botswana, she needed a polymerase she could count on to perform reliably after being transported for several days (on her lap) at room temperature. Through the joint effort of her regional sales representative in New Jersey/Pennsylvania (Pearson’s lab was based out of Princeton University at the time) and our Genomics product marketing team, she received the G2 Taq she needed to take to Africa. There she was able to conduct her experiments, leading to productive results and the opportunity to continue pursuing her work. Continue reading

Easy Automated Genomic DNA Isolation for GMO Testing: From Vision to Reality

29980616-July25-PureFood---Kelly-600x300The European Union (EU) has a zero tolerance policy for products containing any material from non-authorized genetically modified (GM) crops. Seed entering EU markets may not contain even trace amounts of non-authorized genetically modified material. In 2012, as the global use of GM crops increased, seed testing loads in the EU continued to build. Isolating genomic DNA (gDNA) using traditional manual methods was becoming impractical in the face of increasing amounts of material that required testing. There was a growing need for an automated method to isolate gDNA from seed samples. Working to address this need, a group of scientists from the Bavarian Health and Food Safety Authority collaborated with scientists from Promega Corporation to evaluate the Maxwell® 16 Instrument and the associated chemistry as possible a solution for the testing labs. Continue reading

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

DNA Purification from Plants: Not All Methods are Equal

pestle and mortar with leavesIsolating DNA from plant tissues is difficult for many reasons.  Unlike animal cells, plant cells have rigid cell walls, often made of tough fibrous material, and contain proteins and enzymes and other compounds such as polysaccharides and polyphenols that play a role in different cellular processes. These compounds can interfere with DNA isolation as well as downstream applications such as PCR.  For these reasons, DNA isolation methods that are used successfully for other sample types may not work well to isolate DNA from plant material. Continue reading

Tips and Tricks for Successful Nucleic Acid Preparation from FFPE Samples: Webinar Preview

FFPE_molecular_analysis_workflowFormalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded (FFPE) tissue samples are extremely common sample types. In this form, tissue is easy to store for extremely long periods of time and useful for immunohistochemical studies. Additionally FFPE samples are fairly inexpensive to produce. However the formalin fixation procedure, which was developed long before the advent of molecular biology, results in chemical crosslinking of nucleic acid and protein molecules inside the cells. This crosslinking presents a challenge for isolating intact, high-quality nucleic acid DNA; so getting at the wealth of molecular information within an FFPE sample can be difficult.

In the upcoming webinar “Successfully Overcoming the Challenges of Working with FFPE Samples”, Dr. Trista Schagat of Promega Corporation discusses some of the key considerations for anyone who is attempting to isolate nucleic acid from FFPE samples. Continue reading