Will Artificial Intelligence (AI) Transform the Future of Life Science Research?

Artificial intelligence (AI) is not a new technological development. The idea of intelligent machines has been popular for several centuries. The term “artificial intelligence” was coined by John McCarthy for a workshop at Dartmouth College in 1955 (1), and this workshop is considered the birthplace of AI research. Modern AI owes much of its existence to an earlier paper by Alan Turing (2), in which he proposed the famous Turing Test to determine whether a machine could exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to—or indistinguishable from—that of a human.

The explosive growth in all things AI over the past few years has evoked strong reactions from the general public. At one end of the spectrum, some people fear AI and refuse to use it—even though they may have unwittingly been using a form of AI in their work for years. At the other extreme, advocates embrace all aspects of AI, regardless of potential ethical implications. Finding a middle ground is not always easy, but it’s the best path forward to take advantage of the improvements in efficiency that AI can bring, while still being cautious about widespread adoption. It’s worth noting that AI is a broad, general term that covers a wide range of technologies (see sidebar).

AI personified looking at a dna double helix against an abstract cosmic background
Image generated with Adobe Firefly v.2.

For life science researchers, AI has the potential to address many common challenges; a previous post on this blog discussed how AI can help develop a research proposal. AI can help with everyday tasks like literature searches, lab notebook management, and data analysis. It is already making strides on a larger scale in applications for lab automation, drug discovery and personalized medicine (reviewed in 3–5). Significant medical breakthroughs have resulted from AI-powered research, such as the discovery of novel antibiotic classes (6) and assessment of atherosclerotic plaques (7). A few examples of AI-driven tools and platforms covering various aspects of life science research are listed here.

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More Than a Scientist: Paraj Mandrekar’s Career & Contributions to Tabletop Roleplaying Games

Paraj Mandrekar began his career at Promega in 1998 in the Genetic Identity Research and Development program. In 2001, he was a consultant at the World Trade Center to help meet the urgent need to identify victims of the 9/11 attacks. Two products, one of them being our DNA IQ™ System, that Paraj and others used for automating forensic DNA purification at the time were featured in the R&D 100 Award in 2002.

As he progressed through the successive ranks in R&D, Paraj took on more responsibility for the research, design, and development of novel chemistry. A significant high point in his career was being promoted to Senior R&D Scientist 1 in 2010. At that point, he was working on both forensic and non-forensic chemistries with paramagnetic particles. Promega’s non-forensic kit (AS1290) was launched with a new chemistry in March 2010, and a few months later, he got a new version of the Maxwell forensic sample kit (AS1240) out the door.

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Cell-Based Target Engagement and Functional Assays for NLRP3 Inhibitor Profiling Help Identify Successes and Failures

Identifying Inflammasome Inhibitors: What’s Missing
The NLRP3 inflammasome is implicated in a wide range of diseases. The ability to inhibit this protein complex could provide more precise, targeted relief to inflammatory disease sufferers than current broad-spectrum anti-inflammatory compounds, potentially without side effects.

Studies of NLRP3 inflammasome inhibitors have relied on cell-free assays using purified NLRP3. But cell-free assays cannot assess physical engagement of the inhibitor and target in the cellular micro-environment. Cell-free assays cannot show if an NLRP3 inhibitor enters the cell, binds the target and how long the inhibitor binding lasts.

Cell-based assays that interrogate the physical interaction of the NLRP3 target and inhibitor inside cells are needed.

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Addressing the Problem of Dosing in Gene Therapy

One key obstacle to crafting effective gene therapies is the ability to tailor dosing according to a patient’s needs. This can be tricky because even if protein production is successful, staying within the therapeutic window is paramount—too much of a protein could be toxic, and too little will not produce the desired effect. This balance is difficult to achieve with current technologies. In a study recently published in Nature Biotechnology, researchers at Baylor College of Medicine investigated a possible solution to this problem, engineering a molecular “on/off” switch that could regulate gene expression and maintain protein production at dose-dependent, therapeutic levels.

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Cyanobacteria Identified as Cause of Elephant Mass Mortality Event

The largest contiguous population of elephants in Africa lives in the Kavango-Zambezi Trans Frontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA) which encompasses parts of Botswana Zimbabwe, Zambia, Angola and Namibia. Within KAZA, nearly 90% of the elephant population is concentrated in Botswana (58%) and Zimbabwe (29%). In June of 2020, over 300 elephants were found dead in Botswana under mysterious circumstances. Less than two months later—in a span of only 27 days—34 more elephant deaths were reported in neighboring Zimbabwe. The news of these mass mortality events was both notable and concerning given the importance of the KAZA elephant metapopulation to species conservation.

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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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The Power of Pyruvate, A Pivotal Player in Cellular Energy Metabolism

Today’s blog written by guest author Kendra Hanslik.

In the intricate dance of cellular processes that sustain life, pyruvate emerges as a central figure. It plays a crucial role in the energy production saga. This small molecule is the linchpin between glycolysis and the citric acid cycle, linking the breakdown of glucose to the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). In this article, we explore pyruvate’s origins, multifaceted roles, and its association with various diseases.

Illustration of energy metablism in cell showing the mitochondria where pryruvate is metabolized.
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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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Macrophages: The Unsung Heroes of Immune Response and Biologic Drug Development 

When we think about the immune system, B cells and T cells are often the focus of attention. B cells are known for producing antibodies, and T cells are celebrated for their cytotoxic capabilities. More recently, however, macrophages are being brought into the spotlight and recognized for their integral role in immune defense and the field of biologic drug development. 

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Transformative Gene Therapies Greenlit for Sickle Cell Disease

In sickle cell anemia, red bloods cells elongate into an abnormal “sickled” shape

Sickle cell disease is a debilitating blood disorder that causes recurrent pain crises and severe health effects, and can drastically impact quality of life. Recently, Vertex Pharmaceuticals and CRISPR Therapeutics introduced Casgevy, or exa-cel, a novel form of gene therapy that could radically change the management of sickle cell disease. On the heels of exa-cel’s approval in Britain, this groundbreaking therapy was also recently approved in the U.S.

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