Promega Scientific Applications: Expertise to Optimize Your Workflow

Molecular biology protocols are being applied by the cannabis industry to ensure safety and improve production.

How many times have you encountered a technical problem in your work that you needed to solve? Maybe it was an issue of workflow efficiency—too many samples, but too little time for hands-on work. Or maybe there wasn’t a technology available for what you needed to accomplish, and you didn’t have time to develop something yourself. Or still, maybe you were starting into a new research area and didn’t yet have the expertise to solve the problem. Wouldn’t it be nice if you had some support to figure out a solution for these challenges? We have scientists at your service! You may already know about our top-notch team of Technical Services Scientists. They can assist you via phone, email, or chat to walk you through any technical issue, regardless of whether or not you’re using Promega products (not too many companies can say that!).

We go beyond that level of assistance with the expertise of the Scientific Applications team.

Applications Scientists interface with several groups within Promega to address technical issues that customers may be having or to develop a new solution by exploring capabilities of Promega products with new sample types and research areas. They may offer technical expertise by phone conference, take on applications project requests to address customer needs, perform initial proof-of-principle experiments with mock samples or customer-generated samples, or co-travel with Promega sales staff to assist customers in their labs. The work done by Applications Scientists enables customers to get a solution relatively quickly (as compared to waiting for a new product to be developed and made available for sale).

A recent example of Scientific Applications’ work underscores how the group’s technical expertise has a true impact on customers. Rebecca Hartsough Brentin, a Promega Client Support Consultant, had reached out to the Scientific Applications group on behalf of some of her customers in the cannabis industry in Colorado. Two areas of critical importance in the industry are safety testing of food with cannabis additives and optimization of plant production. Robust molecular biology workflows would make these processes efficient and productive.

As with any food product, safety is paramount. Common contaminants are bacteria, such as pathogenic E. coli and Salmonella, and fungi, such as Aspergillus species. One of Rebecca’s customers needed an efficient way to determine if the food that they were producing contained any harmful organisms that came along for the ride. At the time, others in the industry were using standard agar plate-based growth assays to determine if such organisms were present. But these assays would take about a week to get an answer and have limited levels of sensitivity. Plus, food products would need to sit for a week before they could be made available to consumers. They wanted a faster, more sensitive way to test their products.

Food samples to be tested for contamination are added to a bag with culture media and placed into a Seward Stomacher (pictured above), which has paddles to break up food. Then, bags are incubated at a temperature appropriate for the contaminating organism prior to downstream testing for presence of the organism. (Source:

This was where Scientific Applications came in. Mark Bratz, an Applications Scientist in the group, developed a semi-automated DNA purification workflow with the Maxwell® RSC instrument and associated chemistries to purify DNA for a downstream qPCR assay to sensitively detect contaminating E. coli or Salmonella species. He then used well-established liquid culture methods with a Seward Stomacher instrument to enrich for the contaminants for 24–48 hours and processed these samples to purify DNA. Finally, Mark implemented qPCR assays to specifically detect the organisms. This new workflow reduced the time needed for food safety testing from a full workweek to 2 days.

Since this work, we released the Maxwell® RSC PureFood Pathogen kit, which is specifically designed for testing food for pathogens. Mark continued his work to test food for Aspergillus species, which are notoriously difficult to lyse. He used brownies and gummy snacks as model food types to spike in defined amounts of Aspergillus brasiliensis. He then purified DNA using this new kit and used qPCR assays to detect low levels of contamination. This workflow is another valuable resource for customers in the food industry to use when testing for pathogens.

Mark’s work extended to help another customer with DNA purification from cannabis plant tissue in order to quickly determine the sex of plants to facilitate cross pollination. Due to regulations, cannabis samples could not be sent to the Promega Applications Lab in Madison, so Mark traveled to Colorado to process samples in the customer’s lab. During his time there, he extracted DNA from several tissue types, including callus, stem, bud, meristem, and flower, using the Maxwell® RSC Plant DNA kit. This was a critical component needed to help the customer. As Rebecca noted, “Mark’s work showing that cannabis DNA can be extracted from many sample types helped my customers’ workflow save hours of hands-on time! Nothing else they’d tried could get usable DNA for qPCR and sequencing downstream. Maxwell® RSC extractions allow them to do the important safety testing and R&D necessary for their business to be profitable.”

Could our expertise help you to overcome challenges in your work? Reach out to our Technical Services group or your local Promega sales representative. They will partner with the Scientific Applications group to determine how we can best support your work and take your science to the next level.

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Melanie Preston

Melanie Preston

Applications Scientist at Promega Corporation
Melanie earned her B.S. in Biology and Philosophy from the University of Scranton (yes, where The Office took place) and her Ph.D. in Biochemistry from University of Rochester. She performed her postdoctoral studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Melanie is an Applications Scientist in the Scientific Applications & Training group where she tests new uses for existing Promega products. Outside of work, she enjoys hanging out with her two dogs, running, yoga, gardening, singing, and playing the flute (but not all at the same time).

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