From Viral Outbreak to Vaccine Development: Our Top 10 Most Viewed Blog Posts of 2020

This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses. Photo Credit:  Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAM CDC It is one is used in several of our top 10 most viewed blogs of 2020
Illustration from CDC; Photo Credit: Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAM

When you look at our top 10 most viewed blog posts of 2020, there’s no surprise that all relate to COVID-19. We have come a long way since the beginning of the year, thanks to tireless scientists and researchers around the globe. They have led the way in COVID-19 research, treatment, and testing. Let’s take a closer look at this top 10 list:

10. Tips to Maintain Physical Distance in the Lab 

The spread of COVID-19 forced us to adapt and adjust to new ways in life, in work, and for this blog post, in the lab. In response to the pandemic, some labs shut down completely. Others have stayed open, especially those involving coronavirus research. This post provides 10 helpful distancing tips for researchers to stay safe and productive while working in the lab.  

9. Investigation of Remdesivir as a Possible Treatment for SARS-2-CoV (2019 nCoV) 

Scientists have worked hard to determine possible treatment for COVID-19. This blog post focuses on Remdesivir (RDV or GS-5734), an encouraging treatment used for the first case in the United States. It provides an in-depth look at numerous studies and clinical trials on Remdesivir as treatment for COVID-19. One key finding is that RDV needed to be administered either before or shortly after infection to limit lung damage. 

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Just What Is an RLU (Relative Light Unit)?

This post was contributed by guest blogger, Scott Messenger, Technical Support Scientist 2 at Promega Corporation.

It’s always an exciting time in the lab when you find a new assay to answer an important research question. Once you get your hands on the assay, it is always good to confirm it will work for your experimental setup. Repeating the control experiment shown in the technical manual is a great way to test the assay in your hands.

After running that first experiment of your assay, it looks pretty good. The trends of control and treatment are consistent. Time to get on with the experiments…but wait—the RLUs (Relative Light Units) are two orders of magnitude lower than the example data! I can’t show this data to my colleagues; it doesn’t match. What did I do wrong?

This is a concern that we in Technical Services hear frequently. The concern is real, and I had this same thought when doing some of my first experiments using luminescence. When a question like this comes in, a Technical Service Scientist will make sure the experiment was performed as we described, and in most cases it is. We then start talking about RLUs (Relative Light Units).

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The Path Brightens for Vaccine Researchers: Luminescent Reporter Viruses Detect Neutralizing Antibodies

Developing a vaccine that is safe, effective, easily manufactured and distributed is a daunting task. Yet, that is exactly what is needed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Vaccine development, safety and efficacy testing take time. The mumps vaccine is thought to be the quickest infectious disease vaccine ever produced, and its development required four years from sample collection to licensing (2). However, there are many reasons to anticipate quicker development for a COVID-19 vaccine: Researchers are collaborating in unprecedented ways, and most COVID-19 scientific publications are free for all to access and often available as preprints. As of August 11, 2020, researchers around the globe have more than 165 vaccine candidates in development, 30 of which are in some phase of human clinical trials (1). The range of vaccine formulations available to scientists has expanded to include RNA and DNA vaccines, replication-defective adenovirus vaccines, inactivated or killed vaccines and subunit protein vaccines. Equally important is that vaccine developers and researchers have greater access to powerful molecular biology tools like bioluminescent reporters that enable quicker testing and development.

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NanoLuc: Tiny Tag with a Big Impact

Synthetic biology—genetically engineering an organism to do or make something useful—is the central goal of the iGEM competition each year. After teams conquer the challenge of cloning their gene, the next hurdle is demonstrating that the engineered gene is expressing the desired protein (and possibly quantifying the level of expression), which they may do using a reporter gene.

Reporters can also play a more significant role in iGEM projects when teams design their organism with reporter genes to detect and signal the presence of specific molecules, like environmental toxins or biomarkers. Three of the iGEM teams Promega sponsored this year opted to incorporate some version of NanoLuc® Luciferase into their projects.

NanoLuc® luciferase is a small monomeric enzyme (19.1kDa, 171 amino acids) based on the luciferase from the deep sea shrimp Oplophorus gracilirostris. This engineered enzyme uses a novel substrate, furimazine, to produce high-intensity, glow-type luminescence in an ATP-independent reaction. Unlike other molecules for tagging and detecting proteins, NanoLuc® luciferase is less likely to interfere with enzyme activity and affect protein production due to its small size.

NanoLuc® Luciferase has also been engineered into a structural complementation reporter system, NanoBiT® Luciferase, that contains a Large subunit (LgBiT) and two small subunit options: low affinity SmBiT and high affinity HiBiT. Together, these NanoLuc® technologies provide a bioluminescent toolbox that was used by the iGEM teams to address a diverse set of biological challenges.

Here is an overview of each team’s project and how they incorporated NanoLuc® technology.

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Why You Don’t Need to Select a Wavelength for a Luciferase Assay

It’s a question I’m asked probably once a week. “What wavelength do I select on my luminometer when performing a luciferase assay?” The question is a good and not altogether unexpected one, especially for those new to bioluminescent assays. The answer is that in most cases, you don’t and in fact shouldn’t select a wavelength (the exception to this rule is if you’re measuring light emitted in two simultaneous luciferase reactions). To understand why requires a bit of an explanation of absorbance, fluorescence, and luminescence assays, and the differences among them.

Absorbance, fluorescence, and luminescence assays are all means to quantify something of interest, be that a genetic reporter, cell viability, cytotoxicity, apoptosis, or other markers. In principle, they are all similar. For example, a genetic reporter assay is an indicator of gene expression. The promoter of a gene of interest can be cloned upstream of a reporter such as β-galactosidase, GFP, or firefly luciferase. The amount of each of these reporters that is transcribed into mRNA and translated into protein by the cell is indicative of the endogenous expression of the gene of interest. Continue reading “Why You Don’t Need to Select a Wavelength for a Luciferase Assay”

When Proteins Get Together: Shedding (Blue) Light on Cellular LOV

NanoBRETNo protein is an island. Within a cell, protein-protein interactions (PPIs) are involved in highly regulated and specific pathways that control gene expression and cell signaling. The disruption of PPIs can lead to a variety of disease states, including cancer.

Two general approaches are commonly used to study PPIs. Real-time assays measure PPI activity in live cells using fluorescent or luminescent tags. A second approach includes methods that measure a specific PPI “after the fact”; popular examples include a reporter system, such as the classic yeast two-hybrid system.

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Eight Considerations for Getting the Best Data from Your Luminescent Assays

The stage is set. You’ve spent days setting up this experiment. Your bench is spotless. All the materials you need to finally collect data are laid neatly before you. You fetch your cells from the incubator, add your detection reagents, and carefully slide the assay plate into the luminometer. It whirs and buzzes, and data begin to appear on the computer screen. But wait!

Bad data
These data are garbage!

Don’t let this dramatic person be you. Here are 8 tips from us on things to watch out for before you start your next luminescent assay. Make sure you’ll be getting good data before wasting precious sample!

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Dual-Luciferase or Dual-Glo Luciferase Assay System? Which one should I choose for my reporter assays?

Confused womanI’ve got a set of experiments planned that, if all goes well, will provide me with the answer I have been seeking for months. Plus, my supervisor is eagerly awaiting the results because she needs the data for a grant application, so I don’t want to mess it up. However, I am faced with a choice for my firefly and Renilla luciferase reporter assays: Do I use the Dual-Luciferase® Reporter Assay System or Dual-Glo® Luciferase Assay System? What’s the difference? How do I decide which to use? I’m so confused! Help!

Sound familiar? Not to worry! The choice is not difficult once you know how these assays work and how they differ.
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Probing RGS:Gα Protein Interactions with NanoBiT Assays

gpcr_in_membrane_on_white2When I was a post-doc at UT Southwestern, I was fortunate to interact with two Nobel prize winners, Johann Deisenhofer and Fred Gilman.  Johann once helped me move a -80°C freezer into his lab when we lost power in my building. I once replaced my boss at small faculty mixer with a guest speaker and had a drink with Fred Gilman and several other faculty members from around the university. Among the faculty, one professor had a cell phone on his belt, an odd sight in 1995. Fred Gilman asked him what it was and why he had it. It was so his lab could notify him of good results anytime of the day. Fred laughed and told him to get rid of it – if it’s good data, it will survive until morning.

I was reminded of this story when I read a recent paper by Bodle, C.R. et al (1) about the development of a NanoBiT® Complementation Assay (2) to measure interactions of Regulators of G Protein Signaling (RGS) with Gα proteins in cells. (Fred Gilman was the first to isolate a G protein and that led to him being a co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in 1994). The authors created over a dozen NanoBiT Gα:RGS domain pairs and found they could classify different RGS proteins by the speed of the interaction in a cellular context. The interactions were readily reversible with known inhibitors and were suitable for high-throughput screening due to Z’ factors exceeding 0.5. The study paves the way for future work to identify broad spectrum RGS domain:Gα inhibitors and even RGS domain-specific inhibitors. This is the second paper applying NanoBiT Technology to GPCR studies (3).

A Little Background…
A primary function of GPCRs is transmission of extracellular signals across the plasma membrane via coupling with intracellular heterotrimeric G proteins. Upon receptor stimulation, the Gα subunit dissociates from the βγ subunit, initiating the cascade of downstream second messenger pathways that alter transcription (4). The Gα subunits are actually slow GTPases that propagate signals when GTP is bound but shutdown and reassociate with the βγ subunit when GTP is cleaved to GDP. This activation process is known as the GTPase cycle. G proteins are extremely slow GTPases. Continue reading “Probing RGS:Gα Protein Interactions with NanoBiT Assays”

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 “Shining Light on a Superbug”