Integrating artificial intelligence (AI) into the process of scientific research offers a wealth of efficiency-boosting tools that are transforming the ways scientists can approach their work. Many are already using AI to refine code, automate data processing, and edit papers, presentations, abstracts and more. Personally, I find generative language models like ChatGPT to be invaluable “editorial assistants” in my work as a science writer, helping me work through wonky sentence structures, be more concise and get over writer’s block, to name a few applications.
But a scientist’s work doesn’t only involve writing or analyzing data, making presentations or keeping up with the literature. An essential component of any research scientist’s skillset is their ability to develop entirely new ideas and novel research proposals. Coming up with research questions and plans is a central component of graduate education and research careers, both in academia and industry.
As AI continues to advance and find broader use, a critical question arises: Can AI play a pivotal role in the creative process of developing entirely new ideas, such as crafting novel research proposals?
When looking at small aspects of living things, especially cells, it can often be difficult to fully grasp the magnitude of regulation employed within them. We first learn the central dogma in high school biology. This is the core concept that DNA makes RNA and RNA makes protein. Despite this early education, it can be lost on many the biological methods that are employed to regulate this process. This regulation is very important when one considers the disastrous things that can occur when this process goes askew, such as cancer, or dysregulated cell death. Therefor it is very important to understand how these regulatory mechanisms work and employ tools to better understand them.
In our third and final installment of the Promega qPCR Grant Recipient blog series, we highlight Dr. Sabrina Alves dos Reis, a trained immunotherapy researcher. Her work has focused on developing tools for more accessible cancer therapies using CAR-T cells. Here, we explore Dr. Alves dos Reis’ academic and scientific journeys, highlight influential mentorship and foreshadow her plans for the Promega qPCR grant funds.
Dr. Alves dos Reis’ career began with a strong affinity for biology. As an undergraduate student, she pursued a degree in biological science, where she developed a foundational understanding for designing and developing research projects. As her passion for science heightened, she decided to continue her journey in science, culminating in a PhD at the Fundação Oswaldo Cruz Institute in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Her research projects focused on the unexplored territory of adipose tissue as a site for Mycobacterium leprae—or leprosy bacillus—infection. She mentioned that this work piqued her curiosity for improving immunotherapies and laid the foundation for her future in cancer research.
In genetic research, staying at the forefront of technology is crucial. The latest breakthrough in human identification comes in the form of 8-dye Short Tandem Repeat (STR) chemistry. This innovation promises unprecedented precision and accuracy in DNA analysis, revolutionizing the way we approach genetic studies. In this blog post, we’ll delve into the world of 8-color chemistry and explore how it seamlessly integrates with the game-changing Spectrum Compact CE System.
Understanding 8-Dye STR Chemistry
The introduction of 8-dye chemistry expands the capability of STR analysis, enabling researchers to analyze more DNA markers with smaller amplicons, providing more robust data from degraded or inhibited DNA samples. The performance of the 8-color dye chemistries from Promega on the Spectrum Compact CE System is sensitive, with both chemsitries (PowerPlex® 35 GY System and the upcoming PowerPlex® 18 E System) producing 100% profiles from their suggested inputs down to as little as 62.5 pg of DNA. The 18E system produced 100% profiles down to 31.25 pg of input DNA with minimal signal bleed through and low system noise.
Our second installment of the Promega qPCR Grant Recipient blog series highlights Dr. Laura Leighton, a trained molecular biologist and postdoctoral researcher at the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology. Leighton’s scientific journey features a passion for molecular biology and problem-solving. Her path has been illuminated by mentorship, relationships with fellow scientists and a commitment to creativity in overcoming challenges. Here, we explore her scientific journey, reflect on research lessons and foreshadow her plans for the Promega qPCR grant funds.
Dr. Laura Leighton grew up in a rural area in Far North Queensland, Australia, where she spent her early life exploring critters on the family farm. Her upbringing was infused with a deep connection to the environment, from raising tadpoles in wading pools to observing wildlife and witnessing food grow firsthand. Observing the biology around her ultimately piqued her interest in science from a young age. She then began her academic journey in 2011 at the University of Queensland, Australia. She studied biology while participating in a program for future researchers, which led her to undergraduate research work in several research labs. She dabbled in many research avenues in order to narrow in on her scientific interests all while adding different research tools to her repertoire.
After serving as a research assistant in Dr. Timothy Bredy’s lab, she decided to continue work in this lab and pursue a PhD in molecular biology. During her PhD, Leighton worked on several projects from cephalopod mRNA interference to neurological wiring in mice. The common thread in these projects is Leighton’s passion for the puzzles of molecular biology:
“I also love molecular engineering and the modularity of molecular parts. There’s something really special about stringing together sequence in a DNA editor, then seeing it come to life in a cell,” she says.
Mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs) are a large family of proteins that regulate diverse cellular functions in eukaryotes, including gene expression, proliferation, differentiation and apoptosis (1). MAPK signaling pathways typically include three sequentially activated kinases, and these pathways are triggered in response to extracellular stimuli, such as cytokines, mitogens, growth factors and oxidative stress (1). Ultimately, the signal is transmitted to the nucleus, with the activation of a specific transcription factor that modulates the expression of one or more genes.
Among MAPK pathways, the RAS-RAF-MEK-ERK signaling pathway has been studied extensively. Mutations in RAS family proteins and resultant dysregulation of the signaling pathway are implicated in a variety of cancers. Therefore, this pathway is a popular target for anticancer drug development.
Marine seagrasses are submerged flowering plants that form essential underwater meadows, fostering diverse ecosystems and providing a habitat for marine life. Our first Promega qPCR Grant winner and marine ecologist, Dr. Agustín Moreira-Saporiti, plans to continue adding to a fascinating body of work aimed at understanding flowering in marine seagrasses.
Dr. Moreira-Saporiti began his journey into marine plant ecology at the University of Vigo, Spain, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in marine sciences. He then went on to complete a master’s degree at the University of Bremen (Germany) where his thesis focused the ecology of seagrasses in Zanzibar, Tanzania. His passion for marine botany led him down a deeper exploration of marine plants, unraveling the intricate web of ecosystem processes within seagrasses.
Loss of life and serious illness from contamination of manufactured products that are consumed as food or used in medical procedures illustrate the need to prevent contamination events rather than merely detect them after the fact. High-profile news stories have described contamination events in compounding pharmacies (1), food processing and packaging plants (2) and medical device manufacturers (3). Although contamination in manufacturing settings can be physical, chemical, or biological, this article will focus environmental monitoring to determine the quality of a manufacturing facility with respect to microbial contamination.
To ensure that the products they produce and package are manufactured in a high-quality, contaminant-free environment, many industries are required to establish routine environmental monitoring programs. Samples are collected from all potential sources of contamination in the production environment including air, surfaces, water supplies and people. Routine monitoring is essential to detect trends such as increases in potential pathogens over time or the appearance of new species that have not been seen before so that contamination events can be prevented.
Because environmental monitoring requires identification to the level of the species, most environmental monitoring programs will collect samples and then send them off to a facility to be sequenced for genomic identification of any microbial species. Such genotypic analysis involves DNA sequencing of ribosomal RNA (rRNA) genes to determine the taxonomic classification of bacteria and fungi. In this method, informative sections of the rRNA genes are amplified by PCR; the PCR products sequenced; the sequence is compared to reference libraries; and the results interpreted to make a species-level identification for a given microbial isolate.
Monitoring and quantifying drug-target binding in a live-cell setting is important to bridging the gap between in vitro assay results and the phenotypic outcome, and therefore represents a crucial step in target validation and drug development (1). The NanoBRET™ Target Engagement (TE) assay is a biophysical technique that enables quantitative assessment of small molecule-target protein binding in live cells. This live-cell target engagement assay uses the bioluminescence resonance energy transfer (BRET) from a NanoLuc® luciferase-tagged target protein and a cell-permeable fluorescent tracer that reversibly binds the target protein of interest. In the presence of unlabeled test compound that engages the target protein, the tracer is displaced, and a loss of BRET signal is observed. Due to the tight distance constraints for BRET, the signal measured is specific to the target fused to NanoLuc® luciferase.
Promega offers over 400 ready-to-use assays for multiple target classes, including kinases, E3 ligases, RAS, and many others. For targets that do not have an existing NanoBRET™ TE assay, Promega offers NanoBRET™ dyes, NanoLuc® cloning vectors, and NanoBRET™ detection reagents to develop novel NanoBRET™ TE assays.
One critical component in the development of novel NanoBRET™ TE assay is the creation of the cell-permeable fluorescent tracers (NanoBRET™ tracers) against the target protein of interest. The tracers are bifunctional, consisting of a NanoBRET™-compatible fluorophore and a target-binding moiety connected by a linker. While the NanoBRET™ 590 dyes have demonstrated consistently robust cell permeability and optimal spectral overlap with NanoLuc® for BRET, a ligand capable of binding to the target protein of interest needs to be identified to generate a NanoBRET™ tracer.
What Are DNA-Encoded Libraries?
DNA-Encoded Libraries, (DELs), have emerged as powerful tools for discovering small molecule ligands to target proteins of interest at an unprecedented scale. . owing to the ability of a DEL to enable the synthesis of larger libraries of compounds and to target proteins without any prior structural knowledge of the proteins or their ligands (2). Because each member of a DEL contains a DNA barcode and a small molecule separated by a linker, DEL is primed for discovering leads within therapeutic modalities that rely on bifunctional chemistry, such as proteolysis targeting chimeras (PROTACs). Since NanoBRET™ tracers are also bifunctional, ligands identified from DEL selections could serve as ideal candidates for developing novel NanoBRET™ tracers that can enable NanoBRET™ TE assays for new targets.
Insects are a keystone species in the animal kingdom, often providing invaluable benefits to terrestrial ecosystems and useful services to mankind. While many of them are seen as pests (think mosquitos), others are important for pollination, waste management, and even scientific research.
Insect biotechnology, or the use of insect-derived molecules and cells to develop products, is applied in a diverse set of scientific fields including agricultural, industrial, and medical biotechnology. Insect cells have been central to many scientific advances, being utilized in recombinant protein, baculovirus, and vaccine and viral pesticide production, among other applications (5).
Therefore, as the use of insect cells becomes more widespread, understanding how they are produced, their research applications, and the scientific products that can be used with them is crucial to fostering further scientific advancements.
Primary Cell Cultures and Cell Lines
In general, experimentation with individual cells, rather than full animal models, is advantageous due to improved reproducibility, decreased space requirements, less ethical concerns, and a reduction in expense. This makes primary cell cultures and cell lines essential contributors to basic scientific research.
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