May 14 is World Migratory Bird Day (WMBD). The overall mission of this globally recognized event is to raise awareness of migratory birds and protect them by recognizing issues related to their conservation. Over the years, WMBD has focused on issues such as climate change, plastic pollution, the illegal killing of birds, and barriers to migration. The theme for 2022 is focused on light pollution.
Fighting Extinction: Komodo Dragons At Risk
Komodo Dragons are not only the largest lizard on Earth but also one of the most ferocious species with a fearsome reputation. The carnivorous beast can grow up to 10 feet long and can detect flesh from miles away. However, the Komodo Dragon’s serrated teeth, armored scales, and venom-laced saliva are still being outmatched by its biggest competitor: extinction.
The Komodo Dragon was previously named a “vulnerable” species by the conservation organization before being reclassified as “endangered.” There is hope that this change in status will encourage policymakers and conservation groups to strengthen and expand protections.
25 years ago, there were somewhere between 5,000 and 8,000 Komodo Dragons. Today, there are an estimated 1,380 adults and 2,000 juveniles in the wild. The Komodo Dragon is moving towards extinction.Continue reading “Fighting Extinction: Komodo Dragons At Risk”
National Wildlife Day: Admiring Our Natural World
On September 4th, 2021 we celebrate National Wildlife Day. This day helps cherish our planet’s biodiversity and recognize issues that impact wildlife. Take a look at three Promega blogs that highlight preservation and conservation efforts being made to support our natural world.Continue reading “National Wildlife Day: Admiring Our Natural World”
The Wild Genomes Program: Optimizing Conservation Outcomes Using Genomics
Although it is easy to get swept up in the dark year that was 2020, one advantage of overwhelming darkness is it makes it easier to find the bright spots, the beacons of hope, the people working to make the world a better place. One of these bright spots was the launch of Wild Genomes, a new biobanking and genome sequencing program through Revive & Restore.
Back in 2018, the Catalyst Science Fund was established by Revive & Restore with a 3-year pledge from Promega for $1 million annually. The purpose of the fund is to help support proof-of-concept projects and to advance the development of new biotechnology tools to address some of the most challenging and urgent problems in conservation that currently lack viable solutions, including genetic bottlenecks, invasive species, climate change and wildlife diseases.
Through this fund, the Wild Genomes program was launched, with the goal of getting sequencing and biobanking tools into the hands of people working to protect biodiversity right now, and to help support them in applying genomic technologies towards their wildlife conservation efforts.
In their first request for proposals , the competitive Wild Genomes program received over 58 applications from researchers in 19 different countries, all of which aimed to address various species conservation issues using applied genomic technologies. The second round of projects, to be announced this Spring, will focus solely on marine species. Take a look at these first 11 amazing projects that have been awarded funding and the species conservation challenges they are taking on below:Continue reading “The Wild Genomes Program: Optimizing Conservation Outcomes Using Genomics”
Galloping to Greatness: Meet Kurt the First Cloned Przewalski’s Horse
On August 6, 2020, the first successfully cloned Przewalski’s horse was born at the Texas-based veterinary facility, Timber Creek Veterinary, along with a new hope for restoring some much-needed genetic diversity to the species. The successful birth of this foal is the culmination of the collaborative efforts between Revive & Restore, San Diego Zoo Global (SDZG), and ViaGen Equine, and lays the groundwork as an important model for future conservation efforts.
The new Przewalski’s foal (pronounced “shuh-VAL-skees”) has been affectionately dubbed Kurt, in honor of noted animal conservationist, geneticist and pathologist, Dr. Kurt Benirschke. Dr. Benirschke played an instrumental role in founding the Frozen Zoo®, a genetic library comprised of cryopreserved cell lines of endangered species. Established in the 1970s, this collection was built on a foundation of prescient hope, banking on the future development of reproductive and cloning technologies that did not yet exist.
Now thanks to his foresight, that gamble is paying off and the fruits of that labor are literally being brought to life almost 50 years later through Kurt the foal, who is as adorable as he is important to the future of his kind.Continue reading “Galloping to Greatness: Meet Kurt the First Cloned Przewalski’s Horse”
Making Research More Sustainable, One Lab at a Time
Do you love your research job? What if you couldn’t do that work anymore? What if future researchers couldn’t have the opportunity to build from what you have accomplished and feel the same joy you do about their research?
Unfortunately, these may become more than hypotheticals for the next generation of scientists due to the impact humans are having on the earth. Scientific research has an outsized impact on some aspects of our unsustainable use of resources. Academic research buildings can use four times more energy than a typical office building and can be responsible for one-third of all waste generated on campus. So, can you make scientific research more sustainable? Continue reading “Making Research More Sustainable, One Lab at a Time”
Celebrate World Migratory Bird Day by Reducing Your Plastic Use
One of the most noticeable phenological events of Spring in the Midwest United States is the arrival of the red winged black birds in March. These birds fly in from the South and take up residence on fence posts, power lines and tall reeds, creating a a weaving of red and yellow and black against a still brown backdrop. Shortly after the blackbirds arrive, the first robins of spring greet us and sandhill cranes fly in along with many other species.
These migratory birds that serve as heralds of spring are celebrated on World Migratory Bird Day (#WMBD #WMBD2019 #BirdDay). This day is celebrated twice a year, on the second Saturday in May and the second Saturday in October.
Continue reading “Celebrate World Migratory Bird Day by Reducing Your Plastic Use”
Get Out and Count: The Great Backyard Bird Count of 2018
2018 has been designated “The Year of the Bird”, and beginning today, Friday, February 16, 2018, bird lovers around the world will grab their binoculars, fill their bird feeders, update their eBird app, and look toward the skies. The 21st Annual Great Backyard Bird Count, one of the largest and longest running citizen science projects, begins today, and you can be part of this grand event of data collection.
All it takes is a mobile device (or computer) to log your results, an account at gbbc.birdcount.org , and 15 minutes of your time during the four-day event.
Can’t tell a red-tailed hawk from a red-winged black bird? That’s okay. The GBBC web site provides a handy online bird guide. The web site also provides a guide for tricky bird IDs, including: Which Red Finch is it, Identifying Some Common Sparrows, and Identifying Doves.
I recently spent some time talking to Brian Schneider, one of the educators at the Aldo Leopold Nature Center in Monona, WI, to get some tips for first-time birders. Continue reading “Get Out and Count: The Great Backyard Bird Count of 2018”
Evaluating the Costs of Endotoxin Testing
Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a fascinating symposium held at Promega featuring conservationist Steward Brand, where he described some of the projects developed by his foundation, Revive & Restore.
The organization’s mission is to apply emerging biotechnology techniques to endangered and extinct species with the intent to increase genetic diversity, provide disease resistance and facilitate adaptation to changing climates. Although the overall message of enhancing biodiversity through the application of new genetic technology was inspiring, the project that resonated most for me was related to the plight of horseshoe crabs.
Horseshoe crabs, often referred to as living fossils, include four extant species with origins dating back about 450 million years. Although they look like crabs, they belong to their own subphylum and are more closely related to spiders. When horseshoe crabs spawn, they leave their usual habitat on the ocean floor and migrate to shore in large numbers. As a result, they have been exploited for bait and fertilizer for decades.
Enter endotoxins, an indicator for bacterial contamination in biologicals, drugs and medical devices. U.S. Food & Drug Administration regulations dictate that finished products be tested for the presence of endotoxins. These pyrogenic compounds, found in the cell wall of Gram-negative bacteria, can cause fever and affect a wide range of biological activity, possibly leading to aseptic shock and death. The most common method for testing is the gel clot and Limulus Amebocyte Lysate (LAL) Test.
I first learned about the LAL test during graduate school, where it was presented as a ubiquitous and standard requirement for testing bacterial contamination in injectable drugs. I remember being fascinated that horseshoe crabs (Limulus sp.), contain a substance that could be used to detect endotoxins. Although the instructors mentioned the need to collect blood from horseshoe crabs in order to produce the test, the method or scale of this harvest wasn’t discussed, nor were the true costs of using this method of endotoxin testing.
The LAL test has served as a faster, more inexpensive endotoxin testing replacement for the rabbit pyrogens test for the past 35 years. Every year during mating season horseshoe crabs move to shallow water, where they are removed in huge numbers. (To get an idea of scale for the harvest and read a much more comprehensive investigation of the issue, check out this article in The Atlantic, which features an archive photo of Delaware Bay horseshoe crab harvest from 1928—for fertilizer, not pharmaceutical testing.)
After collection, the crabs end up in a lab where up to 30% of their blood is drained from a needle stuck in tissue around their heart. The LAL is extracted from the blood and can yield a product worth up to $15,000/quart. In order to avoid recollection, the crabs are returned to the ocean far from the shore where they were collected a few days before. Although it’s estimated that only 10-30% of these crabs die as a result of the process, there are indications that the horseshoe crab population and their ecosystems are impacted in other ways.
Researchers at the University of New Hampshire and Plymouth State University used accelerometers attached to recently bled female horseshoe crabs to test the hypothesis that harvesting for LAL was affecting their ability to spawn. While the research supported previous estimates with a death rate of 18%, females were found to be less likely to mate after being bled.
During his talk, Brand shared results from a study still in review that confirm the effect of over-harvesting Limulus on the survival of long distance migratory shorebirds. These birds synchronize their migration with horseshoe crab spawning, which provides a needed feast of eggs before the homestretch of their journey. Along with other ecosystem threats from climate change, the accelerated decline in the horseshoe crab population and dependency of migratory birds will likely to lead to a devastating ecological domino effect.
Fortunately, a synthetic alternative to LAL, recombinant factor C (rFC), has been available for nearly 20 years. Alas, there has been no significant shift by pharmaceutical companies away from the test based on horseshoe crab blood. rFC was patented and licensed to one company, Lonza, which Brand posited as one reason for the reluctance of drug companies to adopt its use.
Obviously, relying on one source for an essential testing reagent with no competition to temper cost is quite unattractive. But that argument has less bearing now that the patent is scheduled to expire in a few months, opening the door for additional manufacturers and creating an economic incentive for switching to the synthetic test.
Another reason may be that implementing a new test would require additional resources to validate the synthetic test for products that are already being tested with the LAL. Since the LAL has been specified in FDA guidance documents on endotoxin testing for decades, quality standards for existing products are based on the LAL, limiting momentum to change.
If both tests offered the same benefits, these arguments would make sense; however, research by one of the discoverers of rFC, Jeak Ling Ding of the National University of Singapore, shows that in many respects rFC is more efficacious than LAL. Since the raw material for the LAL test depends on an organism, there is seasonal variation in the components of the processed blood that must be taken into account. The reaction of the LAL also depends on a cascade of multiple compounds that can be affected by temperature, pH and proteins—leaving the test vulnerable to false positive results.
Although Eli Lilly is the only pharmaceutical company to date to use rFC in place of LAL, It seems the tide may be turning. According to Brand, others are interested in making the transition. It seems foolish not to, given the source for LAL shows signs of dwindling due to overexploitation. Perhaps pharmaceutical companies are beginning to see the value of a “slower/better” philosophy (the cornerstone of the Long Now Foundation, another brainchild of Brand’s), rather than “faster/cheaper.” I have certainly gained a new perspective on endotoxin testing and a deep appreciation for the work of Brand and his foundation.
Does your organization use the LAL test? What is preventing you from switching to the synthetic alternative? Let us know!
Phylo: A Crowdsourced, Beautiful Biodiversity Game
They started with one provocative thought: “Kids know more about Pokemon than they do about the plants and animals in their backyard. We’d like to do something about that.”
And then the team behind the Science Creative Quarterly released the idea to the web to see what would happen. It was 2010.
Now, just a few years later, the resulting fruit of a crowdsourced labor is Phylo: The Trading Card Game. Phylo is a frankly beautiful, “sneakily educational”, immediately compelling and truly cross-functional collaboration of the artistic, gaming, scientific, education and even intellectual property law communities all coming together to create and curate a sort of “biodiversity Pokemon.”
Okay, sounds neat, but why?
Continue reading “Phylo: A Crowdsourced, Beautiful Biodiversity Game”