BTCI Summer Programs Provide Learning Opportunities to All Ages

The BioPhamaceutical Technology Center Institute (BTC Institute) is a non-profit organization that provides opportunities for people of all ages to learn about life science and biotechnology. This summer, BTC Institute hosted a variety of programs supporting teachers, potential first-generation college students, and many other groups. Each program supports an overall goal to support scientific understanding in our community.

A Celebration of Life: Being Healthy on Earth and In Space

BTC Institute has collaborated with the African American Ethnic Academy in Madison, WI for over 25 years to offer a summer science program for upper elementary and middle school students. This year, A Celebration Of Life XXVI welcomed 13 students from grades 4-8 every morning for two weeks. Students made ice cream, engineered water filtration devices, and used bioluminescence to learn about preventing the spread of germs. Outside the lab, the students learned tai chi from a Promega employee and toured the Promega culinary garden. Along the way, students learned about historic and contemporary STEM professionals of color associated with each focus area, including astronaut Victor J. Glover and teen entrepreneur Nabil Hamdan.  

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2020 Promega Award for Biochemistry Recognizes Viral Research, Protein Engineering

Promega Award for Biochemistry image

The 2020 Promega Award for Biochemistry ceremony was a bit different this year. Promega Beijing typically announces the award recipients in a ceremony at the biannual meeting of the Chinese Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (CSBMB). As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 conference was moved online. Despite the unusual circumstances, Promega Beijing held a virtual ceremony to grant the award to Dr. Peng Chen and Dr. Haitao Yang.

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Tips for Successful Dual-Reporter Assays

Updated 02/12/2021

Previously, we described some of the advantages of using dual-reporter assays (such as the Dual-Luciferase®, Dual-Glo® Luciferase and the Nano-Glo® Dual-Luciferase® Systems). Another post describes how to choose the best dual-reporter assay for your experiments. For an overview of luciferase-based reporter gene assays, see this short video:

These assays are relatively easy to understand in principle. Use a primary and secondary reporter vector transiently transfected into your favorite mammalian cell line. The primary reporter is commonly used as a marker for a gene, promoter, or response element of interest. The secondary reporter drives a steady level of expression of a different marker. We can use that second marker to normalize the changes in expression of the primary under the assumption that the secondary marker is unaffected by what is being experimentally manipulated.

While there are many advantages to dual-reporter assays, they require careful planning to avoid common pitfalls. Here’s what you can do to avoid repeating some of the common mistakes we see with new users:

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WiSciFest 2019: A Retrospective

This past weekend was the 9th Annual Wisconsin Science Festival, and we at Promega were excited to join in the celebration of science throughout the state. We participated in the Discovery Expo on Thursday and Friday, where dozens of demonstrations and exhibits were scattered throughout the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery building. Thousands of children on field trips filled the halls, eager to poke and prod at strange and exciting new things.

At our table, we talked about the science of bioluminescence. With 3D-printed firefly luciferase models in hand, we showed the glow of recombinant luciferase to the incoming children and explained to them how scientists could use bioluminescence like a tiny “flashlight” to look inside of cells and watch what’s happening. Our learners received a nice little reward for their attentiveness in the form of glow-in-the-dark firefly stickers.

Thank you to the tablecloth for providing the darkness needed to grab this pic.
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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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Cloning Modified Blunt-ended DNA Fragments into T-Vectors

Tailing blunt-ended DNA fragments with TaqDNA Polymerase allows efficient cloning of these fragments into T-Vectors such as the pGEM®-T Vectors. This method also eliminates some of the requirements of conventional blunt-end cloning — Fewer steps, who can argue with that?

Blue/White colony screening helps you pick only the colonies that have your insert.
Blue/White colony screening helps you pick only the colonies that have your insert.

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Science Visitors Only: Watching Life Grow on a New Island

We spend a lot of time looking at history and imagining—”what was it like when…?” As a biologist, I find myself most drawn to stories about the evolution of life. Why does this plant have purplish leaves? How did this species end up in a symbiotic relationship with this other species? How did this animal get to this tiny island 20 miles off the Southern coast of Iceland?

The volcanic island of Surtsey erupting in 1963.
The newly formed island of Surtsey erupting in 1963.

That last one was too specific to be rhetorical, wasn’t it? The volcanic island of Surtsey broke the ocean surface on November 14, 1963, and continued to erupt until June 5, 1967, reaching its maximum size of 2.7 km2 (about the size of Central Park in New York City). At this size, it was large enough to be a good site for biocolonization. Only a few scientists are allowed to visit the island, ensuring that colonization of the island can occur without human interference. Continue reading “Science Visitors Only: Watching Life Grow on a New Island”

“We’re From NASA”: How Citizen Science Helped Find Ultima Thule

The science world is a-twitter with excitement lately, following the recent arrival of the New Horizons spacecraft at 2014 MU69, dubbed “Ultima Thule” by popular vote. The name means “beyond the borders of the known world”, signifying Ultima Thule’s status as the most distant object ever visited by Earthly spacecraft. Ultima Thule is a dark reddish rock in the Kuiper belt, a contact binary formed by two smaller rocks coming together in what was presumably a gentle fashion.

Do you wanna build a snowman? Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

Reaching this space snowman 6.5 billion kilometers away from Earth took brains, dedication, ingenuity and the help of an unnamed Argentinian man and his daughter.

To successfully intercept Ultima Thule, the New Horizons mission team needed to answer some questions, such as “What trajectory is Ultima Thule on?” and “Is there any space debris around Ultima Thule that will destroy our spacecraft?” Being so small (~30km diameter at its widest point), observing Ultima Thule directly from this far away would be too difficult, so the team relied on data gathered during stellar occultations, i.e., when Ultima Thule passed in front of a star.

One of these occultations occurred on July 17, 2017, in the Patagonia region of Argentina. The team had already struck out twice in trying to observe Ultima Thule passing over a star: once in South Africa, and again using the airborne telescope SOFIA over the Pacific Ocean, so tension was already running high.

On this particular night, it happened to be very windy where the observation team was, which is bad news when you’re trying to hold steady focus on a tiny object that’s really far away. The team found themselves needing help to shield the telescopes they had brought with them from wind vibrations, and get the data from the star “without it jiggling around all over the place”, as planetary scientist Anne Verbiscer puts it.

Where does one find volunteers for an astronomical observation? Well, apparently even in Argentina NASA is known and loved, and help can be found just by walking into the community. “If you just started out with ‘We’re from NASA,’ people started coming out of the woodwork,” said Dr. Verbiscer. And that is how one Argentinian man and his daughter ended up spending their evening blocking the wind from a telescope using a truck, a tarp and some plywood, allowing the NASA folks to collect the data they needed to send New Horizons to Ultima Thule.

Want to learn more about the search for Ultima Thule? Check out the episode of NOVA that inspired this blog!

5 of Our Favorite Blogs from 2018

We have published 130 blogs here at Promega this year (not including this one). I diligently reviewed every single one and compiled a list of the best 8.5%, then asked my coworkers to vote on the top 5 out of that subset. Here are their picks:

1. The Amazing, Indestructible—and Cuddly—Tardigrade

No surprises here, everyone loves water bears. Kelly Grooms knows what the people want.

The face of a creature that is nigh un-killable.

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Fun with Science for the Holidays: An “Actor’s” Perspective

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to be a part of “Once Upon a Christmas Cheery in the Lab of Shakhashiri”. Bassam Z. Shakhashiri is a professor of chemistry at the University of Wisconsin–Madison who is well-known for his fun science demonstrations and a fervent dedication to public science communication. Once Upon a Christmas Cheery started in 1970 as an end-of-semester treat for Dr. Shakhashiri’s freshman chemistry class; by 1973, the Christmas lecture had become so popular that Wisconsin Public Television offered to broadcast it during Christmas week, and this collaboration has continued uninterrupted ever since.

That’s 49 years of Christmas lectures, commemorated by making indium, the 49th element, the Sesame Street-esque “sponsor” of the show. It helps that indium burns bright violet, the name of Dr. Shakhashiri’s granddaughter and hence his favorite color. The color purple made a firm foundation for many aspects of the show: The chrysanthemums frozen in liquid nitrogen were purple, as was the balloon I inflated during my spiel on air movement. Most of the set was various shades of purple, too.

Bassam Shakhashiri and J. Nepper on the set of Once Upon a Christmas Cheery
The set was whimsical and very purple. Photo by Eric Baillies.

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