A Successful Launch for Biotechnology: The Basics for Middle School Teachers

Megan Wagner (left) and Katie Aliota, science teachers from Cardinal Heights Upper Middle School in Sun Prairie, WI; load an agarose gel with colored dyes.

Megan Wagner (left) and Katie Aliota, science teachers from Cardinal Heights Upper Middle School in Sun Prairie, WI; load an agarose gel with colored dyes.

Today’s blog is jointly written by guest blogger  Peter Kritsch, Biotechnology and Biology Teacher at Oregon High School and contributor Barbara Bielec. K-12 Program Director at the BTC Institute.

The BTC Institute has offered two graduate-level courses for high school teachers for many summers.  Biotechnology: The Basics and Biotechnology: Beyond the Basics have become very popular and are also drawing the interest of middle school teachers.  So, this June we piloted a new 3-day course designed specifically for them.  Representing different schools and districts, eight teachers learned how to extract DNA from strawberries, pour and run agarose gels, identify a taste gene, and received information on lots of resources to use with their students.

Through the BTC Institute’s Biotechnology Teacher Academy, these courses are offered at no cost and $300-$500 stipends are available.  A main Academy goal is to provide high quality professional development opportunities that prioritize content that participants can smoothly incorporate into their classrooms.   Our commitment to stipends is generously supported by the Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium (WSGC), Promega Corporation, Madison College and the BTC Institute.  (All three courses are offered for graduate credits from Edgewood College, and Viterbo University also offers credits for the two geared to high school teachers.)

The importance of this approach is affirmed by Sherry Jacobsen (Kromrey Middle School in Middleton, WI):

This [course] is such a gift to teachers!  Many times we aren’t treated as professionals so it was nice to be treated as a professional without a high personal cost.  I love how the course is so practical.  Many courses are only in theory and no application.  I can take so many useful ideas with me.

Biotechnology is making its way into the middle school classroom. With access to the BTC Institute’s Equipment Loan Program, teachers can check out micropipettes, gel boxes & power supplies, an ultraviolet light box and other equipment for up to two weeks.  Course participant Amy Reimer (Core Knowledge Middle School in Verona, WI), has already taken advantage of this program and noted that it was “great to review procedures” through the course and plans to borrow equipment again this coming year. Continue reading

The University of Wisconsin Master of Science in Biotechnology Program Celebrates Its 15-Year Anniversary

The University of Wisconsin Master of Science in Biotechnology Program began with its first cohort of students in 2002, and its 14th class graduated this May, with the BTC Institute serving as a major partner since its inception. The 15-year anniversary highlights the success the program has garnered over the years, with over 300 alumni successfully completing the program between 2002 and 2017.

Kevin Conroy, JD led the panel discussion

To celebrate and acknowledge the program’s 15-year anniversary, a panel discussion was held in March of this year on the University of Wisconsin – Madison campus at the Wisconsin Institute for Medical Research (WIMR).  A panel of alumni and faculty, led by Kevin Conroy, CEO of Exact Sciences, addressed the question: What are the future education needs of the biotechnology industry in Wisconsin? Continue reading

On the Road with the Biotechnology Field Trips Program

BFT-aThe On the Road (OTR) BTC Institute Biotechnology Field Trips (BFT) program is rolling right along!  We are doing our best to brave the winter weather to take hands-on science activities all over the state of Wisconsin.

The BTC Institute BFT program served over 3,400 students last year, most of them here at the BTC in Fitchburg.  That said, each year the OTR part of the program is growing in order to serve schools that cannot travel here for various reasons, such as distance, bus costs and the need to minimize out of school time. Continue reading

Almost As Good As the Expert Down the Hall: The Citations Database

database_1When you are faced with a new research challenge or are troubleshooting in the lab, nothing replaces the wisdom of the lab tech down the hall who has 20 years experience doing the very technique you need to try.

But, sometimes there isn’t a local expert handy.

The Citations Database on the Promega website provides another source of expertise for you. We curate peer-reviewed publications that cite the use of Promega products so that you can see what people have done and how they have done it. We include links to PubMed for articles that are in indexed journals, and we also include brief notes about how the Promega products were used in the research.

Whether you are working with a new sample type, troubleshooting nucleic acid isolation, or trying a completely new assay, see how the Citations Database can help you in the laboratory. Continue reading

Shining Light on a Superbug

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria and their potential to cause epidemics with no viable treatment options have been in the news a lot. These “superbugs,” which have acquired genes giving them resistance to common and so-called “last resort” antibiotics, are a huge concern as effective treatment options dwindle. Less attention has been given to an infection that is not just impervious to antibiotics, but is actually enabled by them.

Clostridium diffic33553646_lile Infection (CDI) is one of the most common healthcare-associated infections and a significant global healthcare problem. Clostridium difficile (C. diff), a Gram-positive anaerobic bacterium, is the source of the infection. C. diff spores are very resilient to environmental stressors, such as pH, temperature and even antibiotics, and can be found pretty much everywhere around us, including on most of the food we eat. Ingesting the spores does not usually lead to infection inside the body without also being exposed to antibiotics.

Individuals taking antibiotics are 7-10 times more likely to acquire a CDI. Antibiotics disrupt the normal flora of the intestine, allowing C. diff to compete for resources and flourish. Once exposed to the anaerobic conditions of the human gut, these spores germinate into active cells that embed into the tissue lining the colon. The bacteria are then able to produce the toxins that can cause disease and result in severe damage, or even death. Continue reading

Welcome to Your Biotechnology Field Trip at the BTC Institute!

Kaukauna High School students arrive at the BTC for a biotechnology fieldtrip.

Kaukauna High School students arrive at the BTC for a biotechnology fieldtrip.

BTCI provides our students an opportunity that they could never get in the classroom.
—Jim Geoffrey, Biology Teacher, Kaukauna High School

Your bus has arrived and parked in the circular driveway at the front of the BioPharmaceutical Technology Center on the Promega Corporation campus in Fitchburg, WI. Your BTC Institute hosts – and instructors – for your field trip are Barbara Bielec (K-12 Program Director) and Ryan Olson (Biotechnology Instructor). They’ll greet you in the Atrium and direct you to a conference room where you can leave coats and backpacks, and then to the lab you’ll be working in during your visit.

Here’s a taste of what happened next for students from Random Lake High School and Wonewoc High School on December 3rd, and from Kaukauna High School on December 4th. Continue reading

NanoBiT™ Assay: Transformational Technology for Studying Protein Interactions Named a Top 10 Innovation of 2015

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For three out of the last four years, we have been honored to have one of our key technologies named a Top 10 Innovation by The Scientist. This year the innovative NanoBiT™ Assay (NanoLuc® Binary Technology) received the recognition. NanoBiT™ is a structural complementation reporter based on NanoLuc® Luciferase, a small, bright luciferase derived from the deep sea shrimp Oplophorus gracilirostris.

Using plasmids that encode the NanoBiT complementation reporter, you can make fusion proteins to “report” on protein interactions that you are studying. One of the target proteins is fused to the 18kDa subunit; the other to the 11 amino acid subunit. The NanoBiT™ subunits are stable, exhibiting low self-affinity, but produce an ultra-bright signal upon association. So, if your target proteins interact, the two subunits are brought close enough to each other to associate and produce a luminescent signal. The strong signal and low background associated with a luminescent system, and the small size of the complementation reporter, all help the NanoBiT™ assay overcome the limitations associated with traditional methods for studying protein interactions.

The small size reduces the chances of steric interference with protein interactions. The ultra bright signal, means that even interactions among proteins present in very low amounts can be detected and quantified–without over-expressing large quantities of non-native fusion proteins and potentially disrupting the normal cellular environment. And the NanoBiT™ assay can be performed in real time, in live cells.

The NanoBiT™ assay is already being deployed in laboratories to help advance understanding of fundamental cell biology. You can see how one researcher is already taking full advantage of this innovative technology in the video embedded below:

Visit the Promega web site to see more examples more examples how the NanoBiT™ assay can break through the traditional limitations for studying protein interactions in cells.

You can read the Top 10 article in The Scientist here.

Exciting Times for Biotechnology at Promega-Hannam BTCI

btci_hannam_3For ten years, the BTC Institute has been partnering with an innovative center at Hannam University in Daejeon, Korea: Promega-Hannam – BTCI (PH-BTCI; website (in Korean). Our K-12 programs have served as models for activities that are developed to fit the Korean educational system, which does not typically include off-site field trips, for example, during the regular school day. Continue reading

Biotechnology Ice Breakers: A Few Conversation Starters

quiz pictureThe biotechnology industry is one of the most dynamic out there – in fact, it never stands still! For non-scientists this can be intimidating. For scientists, it can be challenging to explain what we do in ways that non-scientists can understand and appreciate.

Scientists have made great strides in improving our ability to use molecular processes to our advantage, from discovering the basics of how to isolate and manipulate DNA to gaining an understanding of how genes direct the creation of proteins in cells.  It’s clear that there is a lot we can contribute to the scientific literacy of the general public.

In this spirit, we’ve designed a short quiz for both non-scientists (you may learn something new) and scientists (you may find it useful for engaging in conversations with your non-scientist friends and family members).  Spoiler alert: answers are provided. Continue reading

Reflecting on the Future: Hands-On, Person-to-Person Educational Experiences

iStock_000053412884LargeThe start of a new year is always a good time for reflection.  For those of us at the BioPharmaceutical Technology Center Institute (BTC Institute), this means looking at the programs we offer and considering ones we might like to develop.

In this process, we find ourselves continuing to feel certain that the hands-on, lab-based opportunities we provide add something meaningful to the education of those we serve, from middle school students and their teachers to graduate students to scientists in academia and industry.  The value of learning concepts and techniques in a well-equipped setting, working with teachers and volunteers who are dedicated scientists, is significant.

In addition to gaining an understanding of the basics of molecular biology so key to biotechnology, these programs are also designed to support the development of critical thinking skills so necessary to scientific literacy.

We think this is also the case for our scientific symposia (Wisconsin Stem Cell Symposium; Wisconsin Human Proteomics Symposium) and our International Forum on Consciousness.  These events enable attendees to interact with speakers and other participants in person – in an environment designed to encourage the exchange of information, ideas and perspectives. Continue reading