On June 15, 2023, we announced the winners of the 2023 Promega iGEM grant. Sixty-five teams submitted applications prior to the deadline with projects ranging from creating a biosensor to detect water pollution to solving limitations for CAR-T therapy in solid tumors. The teams are asking tough questions and providing thoughtful answers as they work to tackle global problems with synthetic biology solutions. Unfortunately, we could only award nine grants. Below are summaries of the problems this year’s Promega grant winners are addressing.
The UCSC iGEM team from the University of California–Santa Cruz is seeking a solution to mitigate the harmful algal blooms caused by Microcystisaeruginosa in Pinto Lake, which is located in the center of a disadvantaged community and is a water source for crop irrigation. By engineering an organism to produce microcystin degrading enzymes found in certain Sphingopyxis bacteria, the goal is to reduce microcystin toxin levels in the water. The project involves isolating the genes of interest, testing their efficacy in E. coli, evaluating enzyme production and product degradation, and ultimately transforming all three genes into a single organism. The approach of in-situ enzyme production offers a potential solution without introducing modified organisms into the environment, as the enzymes naturally degrade over time.
Endometriosis is a condition that affects roughly 190 million (10%) women of reproductive age worldwide. Currently, there is no treatment for endometriosis except surgery and hormonal therapy, and both approaches have limitations. The IISc-Bengaluru team at the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, India, received 2023 Promega iGEM grant support to investigate the inflammatory nature of endometriosis by targeting IL-8 (interleukin-8) a cytokine. Research by other groups has snow that targeting IL-8 can reduce endometriotic tissue. This team will be attempting to create an mRNA vaccine to introduce mRNA for antibody against IL-8 into affected tissue. The team is devising a new delivery mechanism using aptides to maximize the delivery of the vaccine to the affected tissues.
In late May 2022, Promega invited the nine finalists for the Promega Brazil Young Researcher Award to present their work at a Student Research Symposium on the Promega Madison campus.
The Brazil Young Researcher Award program was created to acknowledge exceptional work by Brazilian students utilizing Promega products in their research. These student researchers were recognized for their achievements and were given the opportunity to present their innovative research to Promega scientists as part of a week-long immersive experience on the Promega campus.
How did you become interested in squids as an experimental model?
My lab works mainly with mice. Other professors work with different organisms such as Drosophila, C. elegans, plants, and yeast at our university. One of them, Simon Sprecher, became interested in marine biology and started a course for students. I immediately thought that’s a great idea because it is something different, and few actually look deeply into the biology of marine organisms. The literature on squids is scarce and old, and they are challenging to keep in lab conditions. Yet, my colleague ordered Loligo vulgaris eggs from Villefranche Sur Mer in France and started establishing them to hatch and grow in Fribourg. He was successful. The next step was setting up experimentation. However, squids have brains, and to carry out experiments with them, we needed to apply for authorization from the Swiss Government. I helped out, but it was challenging because there were no standards and regulations, as nobody works on these animals in Switzerland. Now we are interested in studying the communication between squids. It is easy to observe how they change color, because they are transparent. The change in color is related to their stress level and mood.
What went into taking the image “One Out”?
I’ve been a hobby photographer since I am ten years old. So when I went to my colleague’s lab and looked at the baby squids, I said, “Ohh, they are beautiful.” They looked really stunning, and some of them started changing colors in front of me. I thought that was a fascinating behavior, and I wanted to capture that.
Baby squids are transparent and colorful. I had to think about how I could best picture them. I decided to have them in a Petri dish and put them on a stand with lighting coming from below on a black background. I made several images. On one of them, there was this situation where one of the squids was changing color. It was very different from all the others. It immediately came to my mind that something was happening. They were communicating.
November 8th is National STEM/STEAM Day. For 11 years, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Cool Science Image Contest has celebrated and embraced the art of science. The contest illuminates art in the STEM/STEAM field as students, faculty, and staff submit images and videos that capture science or nature and leave a lasting impression of beauty or wonder.
This year’s 2021 submissions were created with point-and-shoot digital cameras, cutting-edge microscopes, and both backyard and mountaintop telescopes. Contestants captured the art of science from the massive to the minute. Winning entries showcased animals and plants, the invisibly small structures all around us, and stars and nebulae resting lightyears away from Earth.
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 XXVIwelcomed 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.
This post is written by guest blogger, Peter Kritsch MS, Adjunct Instructor BTC Institute.
When I was in the middle of my junior year in high school, my family moved. We had lived in the first state for 12 years. I had gone to school there since kindergarten. Although it wasn’t a small district, I knew everybody and, for better or worse, everybody knew me. Often the first reaction I get when I tell people when we moved is that it must have been hard to move so close to graduation. The reality is . . . it really wasn’t. In fact, it was quite liberating. See, I didn’t have to live up to anybody else’s expectations of who I was based on some shared experience in 2nd grade. I had the opportunity to be who I wanted to be, to try new things without feeling like I couldn’t because that wasn’t who I was supposed to be.
As long as I refrained from beginning too many sentences with “Well at my old school . . . “ people had to accept me for who I was in that moment, not for who they perceived me to be for the previous 12 years. Now, the new activities were not radically different. I still played baseball and still geeked out taking AP science classes, but I picked up new activities like golf, playing basketball with my friends, and even joined the yearbook. I know . . . “radically different.” The point is that the new situation allowed me to try something new without worrying about what had always been.
The pandemic has forced a lot of us to move our classrooms online. In a short period of time, everything changed about how education was done. Our prior teaching experience, including the experience I had with doing blended learning (ooops . . . “back at my old school”), was helpful to a point. But we quickly found out that being completely virtual was different. And as science teachers, how do you do more than just teach concepts when online? How do you help students to continue engaging in the crucial parts of science – observing, questioning, designing, analyzing, and communicating?
Today’s blog is written by guest blogger, Aidan Holmes, biotechnology instructor at the BTC Institute.
For K-12 students and their teachers, the BioPharmaceutical Technology Center Institute (BTC Institute) prioritizes offering in-person, hands-on science activities in classroom, laboratory and outdoor settings. We are simply one among many educational organizations globally whose traditional program offerings have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
How might we keep sharing our love of science with upper elementary and middle school students? We decided that one way to do that is to cull resources for parents/caregivers and feature ones we think make for great Science-at-Home experiences for children in these age groups.
In doing this, we’ve come up with criteria that you may also find useful as you look at activities (including the ones we offer) that you might want to do with the children in your life. These criteria reflect both practical considerations, assessment of educational values and recognize the impact of current stay-at-home orders. Is the activity:
We will go through these S.C.I.E.N.C.E. considerations and at the end, provide an example of how one of the activities on our website, “Milk Fireworks,” meets our S.C.I.E.N.C.E. goals!
Today’s blog is written by guest blogger, Isobel Utschig, a science teacher at Dominican High School in Whitefish Bay, WI. We bring this to you in celebration of #TeacherAppreciationWeek2020
About 10 years ago, I attended a field trip at the Biopharmaceutical Technology Center Institute with my AP Biology classmates. I felt apprehensive upon seeing the micropipettes and other “foreign” lab supplies on the benchtops. We learned that we would be using enzymes to cut DNA and visualize those different fragments on a gel. I marveled at the glowing streaks and found it incredible that I was looking (albeit indirectly) at real pieces of DNA. As we moved into the genetic transformation activity I was even more intrigued. We opened the tubes of bacteria and added some luciferase DNA, which would allow the bacteria to create a light-producing protein. We then “heat shocked” the bacteria to coax them to take up these plasmids from their environment looking at the bacteria later, their glow revealed our success. The day flew by and at the end I marveled at all that we had done!
Three years later I joined a research lab at Marquette University. Upon seeing the lab benches full of unfamiliar equipment, the same wave of apprehension came over me. My PI introduced me to the first task: digest a plasmid with restriction enzymes and verify the cut with gel electrophoresis. Memories of the high school field trip flooded my mind as I gripped a micropipette and attempted to nimbly load the wells. While I greatly improved in my skills over the course of the summer, the familiarity I had from my trip to the BTC Institute put me at ease from the beginning.
A few weeks into Wisconsin’s Safer at Home order, I saw a tweet from Sarah McAnulty, PhD, the founder and Executive Director of Skype a Scientist, proclaiming that the organization was making a big change in response to the COVID-19 pandemic—they were allowing groups smaller than five people to sign up, meaning that families stuck at home during the pandemic could meet a scientist virtually in their living room.
Skype a Scientist provides an easy way to for people to meet a scientist and allows scientists to reach people from all over the world without having to leave the lab. Teachers (and now families) can choose the type of scientist that is a good fit, from computer scientists to marine biologists and everything in between. You can also request a scientist from a group that is underrepresented in STEM fields so that participants can see a scientist who looks like them or can relate to their experiences.
I learned about Skype a Scientist a few years ago after listening to an episode of the HelloPhD podcast. I remember wishing this program had existed when I was a high school science teacher, so I was ecstatic to learn it was now possible to participate and immediately filled out the online application for our family to be matched with a scientist. We received our match the next day and scheduled a call with our scientist the following week.
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.
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