Kailos Genetics Launches COVID-19 Testing Program for Safe Workplaces

Kailos Genetics announces the launch of Assure Sentinel, a first-of-its-kind workplace viral suppression program that tests organizations for COVID-19 on a frequent and recurring basis.

The Assure Sentinel program reduces the challenges of COVID-19 testing in the workplace, according to a statement from Huntsville-based Kailos Genetics.

Samples are acquired using a painless saliva collection system, eliminating the need for nasopharyngeal swabs. Additionally, testing is performed with ViralPatch, the company’s proprietary viral capture and sample pooling methodology, and next generation DNA sequencing to decrease costs and increase testing sensitivity.

“Pooling dozens of samples together has been standard in blood banking for decades,” said Kailos Genetics CEO Brian Pollock. “The Assure Sentinel program is helping to suppress COVID-19 and returning people to the workplace.”

Regular COVID-19 testing can mean a reduction in employee anxiety and a rise in confidence and productivity.

“Safety is, and has always been, our number one priority during the pandemic, and the Assure Sentinel program is helping us continue to ensure the safety and well-being of our employees,” said Julia Michaux-Watkins, Director of Human Resources at HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology.

Kailos is offering the workplace testing program to companies, nonprofit organizations and schools directly and via partnerships with healthcare organizations. The first partnerships include Huntingdon College in Montgomery and HudsonAlpha.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, Huntingdon College identified access to testing as a key element to our ability to responsibly reopen our campus to our students, faculty and staff for the fall,” said Jay Dorman, Treasurer and Senior Vice President for Institutional Effectiveness, Planning and Administration at Huntingdon College. “We have been fortunate to find an Alabama-based partner to provide a reasonably priced, efficient testing option, which has been critical in successfully mitigating the spread of COVID-19 on our campus.”

Founded in 2010 and located at HudsonAlpha, Kailos Genetics is a genetic sequencing company that provides genetic and COVID-19 testing through partnerships with physicians, health systems and employers around the world.

HudsonAlpha, Huntsville Bioscience Companies Headline BIO Alabama Conference

With the biotechnology industry leading the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, BIO Alabama will host industry leaders, entrepreneurs, and academics at the organization’s first conference in five years.

HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology and a number of resident associate companies will be “center-stage” during the four-day virtual conference, Oct. 5-9.

BIO Alabama – Alabama’s affiliate of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), the pre-eminent national association for biotechnology companies – has assembled a lineup from Alabama and across the country to address the industry’s most challenging issues and how the state can play pivotal roles in solutions and advancements.

Among the topics are: Operation Warp Speed; COVID-19 related legislation; the strategic roadmap for the state’s biotechnology ecosystem; collaborative efforts to strengthen the state’s agricultural economy; diversity, equity and inclusion in the bioscience industry; and discoveries by researchers at Alabama’s leading academic centers.

“HudsonAlpha has been a longtime partner and leader for BIO Alabama and the biotechnology ecosystem in North Alabama continues to bloom with innovative companies,” said BIO Alabama Executive Director Sonia Robinson. “Our virtual conference is a great opportunity to connect with life science thought-leaders from around our state who are strengthening our industry for the future.”

The speakers are leaders in academic research, education and business. HudsonAlpha and Huntsville contribute greatly to the state’s work in the biosciences and are well-represented in the BIO Alabama agenda.

HudsonAlpha Faculty Investigator Jeremy Schmutz will lead a panel discussion that includes Dr. Josh Clevinger, also of HudsonAlpha; Brian Hardin with Alabama Farmers Federation; Kyle Bridgeforth of Bridgeforth Farms; and Dr. Kira Bowen from Auburn University.

The group will discuss its efforts in developing next generation crops for diversifying and strengthening Alabama’s agricultural economy. The panel will provide an early view into the way people from across the state and across industries are leveraging HudsonAlpha’s expertise in genomics research to improve crops for Alabama farmers and ultimately benefit businesses and consumers in the state.

Carter Wells, HudsonAlpha’s Vice President for Economic Development and past Chairman of BIO Alabama, will lead a “fireside chat” with Andrew Burnett, health legislative assistant for Sen. Richard Shelby. Burnett is Shelby’s aide for federal appropriations and policy on a variety of health-related topics, including coronavirus relief, clinical trials, diagnostic testing and the development of new medications and therapies. Burnett also works with biotech entrepreneurs and veterans of bioscience businesses.

HudsonAlpha Director of Recruitment Amy Sturdivant, BIO Alabama Executive Director Sonia Robinson and Chairman Blair King will deliver the BIO Alabama’s strategic plan. The address concludes a multi-year listening tour and focus-group exercises to develop a strategic roadmap for the industry. Sturdivant will join BIO Alabama Executive Director Sonia Robinson and Chairman Blair King in delivering the report to BIO Alabama constituents.

“Growing and supporting entrepreneurial efforts in the biotech industry have translated to success stories and expanding jobs in the sector,” said Sturdivant, who also serves as BIO Alabama vice chairwoman. “Organizations across the state are contributing and collaborating; providing resources for capital, mentoring, workforce training, and more.

“The BIO Alabama strategic plan lays out lessons learned and opportunities we will seek together.”

Alex Cate, Business Retention and Expansion Specialist for HudsonAlpha, will join panelists from the state’s top incubators and accelerators to discuss business growth and technology commercialization.

Additionally, several North Alabama-based and HudsonAlpha resident companies will be featured at the conference.

To register, visit https://www.bioalabama.com/event-3976946

 

HudsonAlpha On Team Awarded 5-year, $68M Biofuels Grant

Several research groups at HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology are passionate about producing crops that can be used as fuel to create clean and sustainable energy for our planet.

And now, with the help of a newly awarded Department of Energy grant, they can move one step closer to this goal.

The grant is part of a DOE project that will provide $68 million in funding over five years for basic research aimed at making more productive and resilient crops that can be used to produce fuel, called biofuel. Material from these crops, referred to as biomass, can be harvested and converted into liquid biofuels for use in transportation, or as energy for heat and electricity. Biofuel represents an important alternative to fossil fuels because it is a renewable, sustainable, and carbon-neutral source.

Faculty Investigator Jeremy Schmutz of HudsonAlpha is on a team of researchers from across the United States working for more than a decade to genetically characterize and improve the biomass production of switchgrass. The collaborative research team is led by Dr. Thomas Juenger of the University of Texas. Dr. Kankshita Swaminathan of HudsonAlpha brings her team’s expertise in plant gene editing to the project.

One of the most exciting aspects of our project is the diverse research perspectives on the team – a group that includes ecologists, evolutionary biologists, genomic and data scientists, microbial ecologists, physiologists and plant breeders,” Juenger said. “The broad perspectives provided by the team have been critical for developing creative solutions to improving switchgrass.”

Switchgrass grows in much of North America and is commonly used for livestock feed and erosion control. Switchgrass is a promising biofuel candidate because its deep roots that allow it to access nutrients easily from a variety of soils, and it has a higher tolerance for extreme water conditions, such as drought or prolonged periods of rain.

There are several varieties of switchgrass based upon the climate and their environment. For example, the southern lowland switchgrasses are tall and thick-stemmed, while the northern upland switchgrasses are short and thin-stemmed.

For biofuel production, tall and hearty switchgrass is desirable to produce the most biomass per plant. The research groups aim to produce a variety of switchgrass that is high-producing like the southern plants but has cold tolerance like the northern plants.

By breeding switchgrass that can thrive across different climates, the research group hopes to create a biofuel crop that is not only sustainable and clean but can also be grown on lands that are not traditionally useful for growing food. The ability of a biofuel crop to grow on otherwise uninhabitable land is important in the quest to increase biofuel crop production without jeopardizing commercial farming.

Planting switchgrass in common gardens at 10 sites across the United States allows the research group to study how genetics and the environment interact. This helps the researchers determine the genes or genetic changes responsible for desirable switchgrass traits. Such traits include high biomass production, cold tolerance, sustainability, and a high success rate of plant establishment from seeds.

“We hope to be able to solve long standing issues with switchgrass crop improvement by applying our large-scale genomic efforts,” Schmutz said. “Improved switchgrass varieties will bring greater cold tolerance and increased yield for biofuel feedstocks for this highly sustainable perennial crop.”

The group will identify genes that confer these key traits in switchgrass and use Swaminathan’s expertise in targeted editing and plant breeding to make varieties of switchgrass that will produce the most biomass yet will survive in colder climates.

“Over the last decade, this team has used the latest technology in genomics to explore the effect of genetics and environment in switchgrass and have identified genes that likely influence many desirable traits,” said Swaminathan. “It is a really exciting time to test these hypotheses using recent advances in plant biotechnology and genome editing.

“This will allow us to explore the precise function of genes of interest and help inform directed breeding for more resilient, high yielding plants.”

 

 

HudsonAlpha and Crestwood Medical Center Join to Help Treat ALS

In a collaborative effort with Crestwood Medical Center, HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology recently launched the Impacting ALS project.

Last month, the ALS Association awarded HudsonAlpha a $20,000 grant, which will be used toward increasing the number of patients to participate in the Crestwood ALS Care Clinic, as part of Impacting ALS.

Directed by Drs. David White and Aruna Arora, the Crestwood ALS Care Clinic is the only National ALS Association Treatment Center of Excellence in Alabama. The clinic is also a Northeast ALS Consortium site with its mission to translate scientific advances into clinical research and new treatments for people with ALS.

“Crestwood is proud to have strong relationships with the ALS Chapter and our patients who are battling ALS,” said Dr. Pam Hudson, Crestwood Medical Center Chief Executive Officer. “We are excited to collaborate with HudsonAlpha on this project to better understand and treat this disease which will allow us to help improve the quality of life for ALS patients.”

ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, causing the loss of voluntary muscle control. Commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease, it is estimated that as many as 20,000 Americans live with ALS; 15 new cases are diagnosed daily.

The life expectancy of a person with ALS is roughly two to five years from the time of diagnosis, although more than half of those with ALS live more than three years after diagnosis.

The goal of researchers is to untangle ALS and to gain a better understanding of the underlying causes. To that end, scientists are employing leading-edge technology, such as genomic sequencing to analyze genetic variants.

“Hopefully, in understanding some of the biology behind ALS, we’ll be able to understand different avenues of how this disease happens, what causes it, and eventually, be able to find targets that can be useful for therapeutics and different treatments,” said Dr. Richard M. Myers, HudsonAlpha President and Science Director. “We are grateful to work with Crestwood and ALS patients right here in Huntsville for this project.”

Visit, hudsonalpha.org/foundation/als-project/

HudsonAlpha Receives $1.5M Gift to Name First Endowed Faculty Chair

A $1.5 million gift to the HudsonAlpha Foundation by Miguel “Mike” Loya, a Texas businessman and HudsonAlpha supporter, has established the first endowed faculty chair at HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology. Dr. Richard M. Myers, Institute president and science director, has been appointed as the M.A. Loya Endowed Faculty Chair in Genomics.

“Over the years, I have seen HudsonAlpha take enormous strides in Alzheimer disease research, and I want to continue the momentum by supporting the Institute’s neurological research projects,” Loya said. “My family has a personal connection to these devastating diseases and I want to make sure HudsonAlpha can continue their work to find answers.”

As the eldest of seven siblings, Loya came from modest means in El Paso, Texas. He graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Texas at El Paso. He received his MBA from Harvard and started his career in the oil industry.

Recently retired, he served as the president of Vitol, one of the world’s largest oil trading companies for nearly two decades. Loya’s mother and grandmother had Alzheimer disease, which led to his interest in neurological disease research.

“Mike has once again demonstrated his commitment to HudsonAlpha and neurological disease research by providing this generous gift to the Institute,” said Myers. “His positive impact will continue for generations to come, and we are grateful for his generosity.”

Loya previously supported the HudsonAlpha Foundation Memory and Mobility Program to study neurological diseases with a $1M gift. As recognition of that gift, the Institute’s cafe was named the Anita Loya Cafe in his mother’s honor.

“This is the first endowed faculty chair position for HudsonAlpha,” said Elizabeth Herrin, HudsonAlpha Foundation Director of External Relations. “Endowed faculty chairs provide the necessary funding to advance research and discovery and are critical for retaining and attracting top talent. We are very grateful to Mike for this gift.”

HudsonAlpha Study Reveals Similarities Between Wild, Domesticated Cotton

Plant genomics researchers at HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology announce the surprising results of a cotton sequencing study led by Dr. Jane Grimwood and Jeremy Schmutz, who co-direct the HudsonAlpha Genome Sequencing Center. The goal of the project was to identify differences among wild and domesticated cotton that could be used to bring back traits like disease or drought resistance. The results, however, surprised the researchers and led them to unexpected conclusions, as described in their paper in Nature Genetics.

Dr. Jane Grimwood

“The importance of this study is that it helps us understand more about cotton fiber development,” said Grimwood, who is a faculty investigator at HudsonAlpha. “But perhaps more importantly, it reinforces the surprising concept that wild and domesticated cotton is remarkably similar, leading us to the conclusion that we will need to work on other approaches to generate diversity for cotton species.”

For the study, the group sequenced and pieced together the complete genomes of five different species of cotton – both wild and domesticated – for comparison. Their genomic analysis showed that two ancestral diploid cotton genomes came together to form what is basically the modern tetraploid cotton between 1 and 1.6 million years ago.

“When we compared the wild cotton plants to domesticated cotton, we expected to see that the wild traits had been lost,” said Schmutz, a faculty investigator at HudsonAlpha. “What you typically see with these crops is that all the selection has gone into improving production, potentially at the cost of losing beneficial genetic material from the wild species.”

What they found, however, surprised them.

The wild and domesticated genomes, it turns out, were incredibly similar.

Jeremy Schmutz

“There’s less diversity between what are supposed to be different species of cotton than between two humans or even within different cells in a single human body,” Schmutz said.

This lack of diversity means that researchers won’t be able to as easily reach back into the wild cotton gene pool to introduce lost traits such disease resistance back into cultivated cotton plants.

“We can’t only rely on the gene pool to make changes to cotton as a crop because those wild genes don’t exist. The only real way forward is really going to be targeted genome editing,” Schmutz said.

Even though the group was surprised to find so much similarity among the cotton genomes, they did find some useful variation. Wild cotton, for instance, has some more genetic disease resistance triggers than cultivated cotton varieties, which tend to be more vulnerable.

“This is the basis from which we can start to compare what else we can do with existing cotton diversity,” Grimwood said. “Breeders have selected for ‘improved’ strains of cotton based on how the plants perform in the field, but they don’t necessarily have a full understanding of the changes they are making on the genetic side. With this new information, they can really look at what their selections are doing on a genetic level.”

Even though the project results were unexpected, the entire team is confident that the newly assembled cotton genomes will lead to direct benefits for cotton producers and the cotton industry.

Don Jones, the director of Agricultural Research at the nonprofit Cotton Inc., said these reference grade assemblies are significant advancements for improving the sustainability of cotton production.

“The results described in this Nature Genetics publication will facilitate deeper understanding of cotton biology and lead to higher yield and improved fiber while reducing input costs. Growers, the textile industry, and consumers will derive benefit from this high impact science for years to come,” Jones said.

This work is supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Agriculture and Cotton Inc.

In addition to the HudsonAlpha team, the publication included researchers from 12 other institutions: the University of Texas; Nanjing (China) Agricultural University; Texas A&M University the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Raleigh, N.C., and Stoneville, Miss.; Zhejiang A&F University in Lin’an, China; Clemson University; Iowa State University; the U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute in Walnut Creek, Calif.; Mississippi State University; Alcorn State University; and Cotton Inc. in Cary, N.C.

HudsonAlpha Company, Local Business Working to Address Health-Care Disparities in America

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a long-standing problem to the forefront – racial and ethnic disparities in health care.

Reports show that African Americans are dying from COVID-19 at a higher rate than other races. Louisiana reported African Americans account for 70 percent of coronavirus-related deaths. DC reported 58 percent and Michigan reported 42 percent, a state where African Americans only make up 14 percent of the population.

“There have been a number of articles about the need to collect racial and ethnic data for COVID-19,” said Tiffany Jordan, chief development officer at Acclinate Genetics, a minority-owned, Huntsville-based company that strives to achieve health equity and personalized health care for all by diversifying genomic data and clinical research.

“Yes, we need to utilize the data collected to create a strategy, a strategy that will allow us to overcome some of the current health inequalities. These inequalities are currently impacting the care people receive and that is not fair.”

Tiffany Jordan: “These inequalities are currently impacting the care people receive and that is not fair.”

Jordan said this is also an awareness issue.

“We must ensure that minorities are properly educated on the past medical injustices and the rapidly advancing pharmaceutical industry,” she said. “We need to encourage minorities to ask the right questions and play a role in creating a solution for generations to come.”

Surgeon General Jerome Adams recently discussed the lack of health equity and the importance of educating the African American community about their risk.

“My office, long before COVID-19, has been talking about health equity and the need to help people understand when they’re at risk and to actually intervene,” said Adams. “We know that blacks are more likely to have diabetes, heart disease, lung disease.

“I and many black Americans are at higher risk for COVID, which is why we need everyone to do their part to slow the spread.”

Acclinate Genetics helps bio-pharmaceutical companies and contract research organizations achieve the most representative research sample by expanding their genomic studies and clinical trials to include diverse ethnic groups.

“Having the data is one thing,” said Jordan. “Doing something with the data is something much greater.”

Creating the actionable, personalized analysis of the data is why Acclinate Genetics is partnering with RippleWorx, Inc., a Huntsville-based, SaaS (Software as a Service) company.

RippleWorx provides a holistic approach to human performance by analyzing cognitive and physiological data and using machine-learning to solve complex problems, such as when are athletes at their peak performance and when are they susceptible to injury.

Timo Sandritter: “We can’t have a ‘one shoe fits all’ philosophy under health care, or anywhere else for that matter. “

“Partnering with RippleWorx was a no-brainer,” said Jordan. “Their team of experts is already looking at this type of data to determine what affects people more – identifying factors that keep people from performing at their best – physically and mentally.”

Dr. Timo Sandritter, president and co-founder of RippleWorx, firmly believes in this mission for equity in health care.

“We can’t have a ‘one shoe fits all’ philosophy under health care, or anywhere else for that matter,” he said. “We need to ensure that we service the groups that need it and where they need it. We are quick to celebrate our differences in many ways.

“We also need to embrace a health-care system that’s tailored toward those needs.”

Together, Acclinate Genetics and RippleWorx, are ready to fight war on equality in all areas, whether it’s COVID-19, or in future health-care needs, so each race is accurately represented and data and results are comprehensive.

HudsonAlpha’s Dr. Lamb Warns: Misinformation Spreading Like the Virus

Drinking hot water; using a hair dryer to blow hot air down your throat; and gargling with bleach are just a few of the outrageous preventatives against the COVID-19 disease that can be found on the Internet these days.

Some of them may even quote an expert with the Center for Disease Control or a research scientist at Johns Hopkins University.

Dr. Neil Lamb: “Please, please, please don’t try any of the things you read on the internet.” (Photo/HudsonAlpha)

Dr. Neil Lamb of the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology recently answered questions from local business owners in a teleconference with the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce and warned against trusting the Internet for valid information.

“Please, please, please don’t try any of the things you read on the internet,” he said. “During an epidemic, the virus isn’t the only thing that spreads – so does misinformation.”

While these specific questions were not among those asked by Chamber members, Lamb answered numerous highly intelligent and often-asked questions during the call.

For instance, can people build up their immunity system for fighting the COVID-19 virus by eating healthier and using vitamins and supplements such as vitamin C, A, D, E and zinc?

“You can build up your resilience,” said Lamb. “For instance, if you smoke or vape – stop now! You want your lungs to be in the best shape possible.

“If your diabetes or hypertension is not controlled by medication – get it under control with medication.

“Get enough sleep, because your immune system is weakened when you are under stress and not getting enough sleep.

“Absolutely think about your diet. We often reach for comfort food during stressful times like a milkshake or ice cream with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups,” he said to laughter. “Instead, help your body control immune and inflammatory responses with healthier foods like extra fruits and vegetables.”

There is nothing that scientists and doctor know of right now that will stop the spread of the virus once a person has developed symptoms, he said.

“The best thing you can do is make it really hard for the virus to find you, and you do through social distancing, limiting contact and interaction with others, and practicing good handwashing and hygiene rituals,” Lamb said.

In regards to Vitamin C, he said the levels of vitamins doctors are using to treat people in the hospital, are many, many, times the levels of Vitamin C purchased over the counter or in a multivitamin.

“The Vitamin C hospitals are using is given intravenously too, so you cannot eat enough Vitamin C pills to reach the level they are giving,” he said. “And if you eat a bottle of Vitamin C tablets, it is going to pass right through your system in your urine, so it is not going to do you any good.

“Taking a normal routine of a multivitamin or antioxidant is beneficial all the time; eating more green vegetables is good all the time; but the real way to increase disease resilience is by taking good care of our body.”

Another question pertained to handling he return of employees back to work in the weeks ahead. If a company wants to implement taking employee’s temperature upon entering the building, would that be appropriate?

“The CDC is recommending self-monitoring and part of self-monitoring is taking your temperature,” Lamb said. “As we begin to tiptoe back towards normal, the challenge is that you can be completely asymptomatic and still be actively spreading the virus. You can be infectious with no fever.

“I think we’re beginning to see what’s called a serological test coming to market, that uses swabs to look for the presence of the virus’ genetic material in your nose or throat,” he said. “These tests look to see whether you have developed SARS-CoV-2 antibodies due to exposure to the virus. That is very different from molecular testing we’re seeing offered at hospitals now.

“I think we will soon begin to see these tests come to market as they begin opening drive-in clinics, specifically for finding out whether you’re actively infected.”

Face masks are creating the most conversation right now and there were many questions regarding the effectiveness of wearing them in public.

“The World Health Organization has maintained that you should only wear a face mask if you are sick or caring for someone who is sick or working in a health care setting,” said Lamb. “Other countries around the world have freely handed them out and made them mandatory. There is a lot of ground between those two and we don’t have any firm guidance yet, but I think in the next few days, we’re going to see some guidance from the CDC and the White House about wearing face masks.

“Remember, wearing face masks out in public is not to protect you from somebody else, but to protect other people from you. The face mask keeps any respiratory particles you might be spreading, contained.

“If you’re sick, you need to be wearing a face mask. If you’re caring for someone who’s sick, you need to be wearing a face mask.”

However, there is not enough personal protective equipment (PPE) for the medical professionals right now so people do not need to be going to the grocery store wearing an N95 mask. Those need to be in the hands of health care workers, the people on the front lines of this pandemic who desperately need every possible protection.

“The kind of face coverings we’re going to be encouraged to wear out in public can be homemade face coverings,’ Lamb said.

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle suggested face masks are a psychological reminder that people still need to practice social distancing, but that they should not give a false sense of security.

Lamb agrees.

“The thing to remember is that most of us don’t wear a face mask every day, so it’s going to feel different on your face, causing people to be constantly adjusting it,” he said. “If I am constantly touching the outside of my face mask, I’m potentially taking any contamination I have come into contact with on my fingers, and moving it all over my face. That may inevitably increase the risk!”

Are there hot spots around town we should all avoid, like going to one store and not another, or are some stores cleaner and safer than others?

“I think you should just assume everything is potentially contaminated and you need to be hypervigilant about that,” Lamb answered. “I don’t want to freak anyone out, but we should realize any surface can have virus on it.”

He went on to explain how he approaches surfaces.

“When I enter our building, I use a folded handkerchief to reach for a place on the handle I doubt a lot of other people have grasped,” he said. “Then I fold it inward and try to be conscious of not touching that part of the handkerchief again.

“Keep plastic grocery bags in your vehicle so when you get gas, you can put your hand inside the bag and grab the gas pump with it. Then put it into the trash can right by the pump.

“When you go to the grocery store, before you grab a cart, if someone isn’t there sanitizing the carts, go grab the wipes first or use your own wipes to clean the cart.

“Think about the way you touch groceries. Don’t pick up multiple cans or boxes to read the ingredients like you usually do. Pick up the can or box you want and put it in the cart. When you get home, consider having a dirty space and clean space on your countertop. Wipe off the containers and put them in a clean space.

Many people are intrigued by the bright colorful pictures they have seen of COVID-19 virus. How does the virus behave?

“The SARS-Co-V2, which causes COVID-19 disease, has a fatty membrane around it,” said Lamb. “A lot of viruses are encapsulated and protected by proteins, but this one does not have that, which means it is a relatively fragile virus. All the things that break up fat like soap, tear open the membranes of the virus. That’s why washing your hands for 20 seconds and building up the suds and foam will destroy it.”

How about the weather? Do cold temperatures help the virus maintain stability, and will warmer weather break that down?

“Certainly the influenza virus drops off during the summer, and we know from research that the flu spreads better in drier, colder air, which means the hot moisture and humidity in the South during the summer does not benefit the spread of the flu,” Lamb said. “But we don’t know if the coronavirus behaves the same way as influenza.

“We don’t have a lot of data, and I’ve seen a lot of people suggest we’re going to see a summer dip; but there is also evidence from warmer parts of the world still having rapidly spreading coronavirus that might argue against that. We can’t really be sure. We are just going to have to wait and see.”

There is a lot of information on the Internet about stopping the virus from moving from the upper respiratory to the lower respiratory system if a person starts showing mild symptoms. Is this true?

“I know it may be incredibly frustrating to watch this virus spread around the globe and not think, ‘What can I do and what can’t I do. I’m just one person trying to take care of my household and coworkers,'” Lamb said. “However, every action has consequences,” Lamb said. “The choices we make today, the decisions we make about not hanging out in large groups and about minimizing the number of trips we take outside of home, will shape the next three weeks.

“What you do today, every day, over the next three weeks is a gift to yourself and our city three weeks from now.”

And finally, once this virus passes, how long will it be before life gets completely back to normal?

“I’m going to say this up front and I know no one wants to hear it, but it is likely this is not the last time we’re going to be talking about social distancing,” Lamb said. “The goal of social distancing is to make it harder for the virus to spread so we don’t overwhelm the health care system, but the flip side of that is that many of us will still not have been exposed to the virus so we will not have immunity.

“So it’s likely when we come back together and lax social distancing in different regions of the country, we will see spikes in some regions and we will have to undergo social distancing again. How many of those bumps will we see on the tail end of that curve?

“It shouldn’t be as widespread and require a total shutdown like we are seeing now, but I don’t think it’s going to be a nice, smooth curve at the end when we all go back to everyday life.”

HudsonAlpha Researchers Work to Improve Cotton Through Genetics

Is there anything more Huntsville than the combination of cotton and technology?

To that end, researchers at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology have set out to make a better cotton through a series of research collaborations, grants and projects. These grants include sequencing “elite” cotton strains, sending cotton to space and conversations between students and astronauts.

Genetics could transform the ways cotton and its uses are considered.

Scientists are studying colored cotton straight from the plant, which would reduce the environmental footprint of dye use. Fire retardant cotton would come with major implications for consumer safety.

Cotton might even be bred with natural antimicrobial compounds, which could revolutionize the medical industry by providing hospitals with linens and bandages that have antibacterial properties.

With such visions, it’s easy to see why researchers have focused in on cotton for genetically guided improvement. A series of grants will allow HudsonAlpha researchers at the HudsonAlpha Genome Sequencing Center (HGSC) to develop the cotton of tomorrow.

One project HudsonAlpha scientists with the HudsonAlpha Genome Sequencing Center will work on has them sending cotton to space. The idea is that cultivating cotton in zero gravity may alter the genetics or epigenetics of transformation, giving scientists a comparison to cotton cultivated on earth.

The HGSC provides high-quality whole genome sequencing and analysis in agriculture, having created more than half of all the high-quality reference genomes in circulation.

The project team, led by Jeremy Schmutz, will sequence the earth-grown samples and the samples that return from space, searching for differences on the genetic level. The effort is part of a collaboration with Dr. Christopher A. Saski of Clemson University, funded by Target and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS).

However, it’s not the only cotton-based project on the radar for the HGSC.

HudsonAlpha researchers are setting out to make a better cotton through a series of research collaborations, grants and projects.

Schmutz is also heading a project funded by Cotton Inc. that will compare elite cotton lines with a historical one. Breeders develop “elite lines” that they use as the basis for their crops, often because they are well adapted to the climate they’re grown in, particularly disease resistant or have some desirable traits.

By comparing elite lines to a historical cotton reference genome, researchers hope to unveil the parts of the cotton genome that make the elite lines so desirable, making them easier to replicate and improve.

As far as education is concerned, Dr. Neil Lamb, vice president of Educational Outreach, will lead a student experience for a diverse group of students from local high schools. The Educational Outreach team will cover the basics of epigenetics, information about cotton and the specific details of the research project.

Students will have an opportunity to ask questions of researchers from HudsonAlpha and Clemson.

Lamb is also working with NASA to explore the possibility of linking students to the astronauts on the International Space Station for a conversation about how the experiments are carried out in space.

 

 

HudsonAlpha Launches Biotech Mentoring Program for Entrepreneurs

The HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology has launched a mentoring program to help strengthen biotech and life sciences entrepreneurs as business leaders in North Alabama, capitalizing on the wealth of business talent in the region.

The program, called Navigate, was established last fall and is modeled after MIT’s Venture Mentoring Service program which has been mentoring entrepreneurs for more than 20 years.

Through careful, thoughtful and deliberate selection, Navigate matches growing entrepreneurs with teams of c-suite executives, experienced entrepreneurs and subject matter experts from North Alabama to provide them a group of confidential and conflict-free advisors.

“HudsonAlpha founders Jim Hudson and Lonnie McMillian were both serial entrepreneurs and mentors to countless entrepreneurs, including some of the Navigate mentors,” said Carter Wells, vice president for economic development at HudsonAlpha and director of Navigate. “Navigate is a way for us to bring the entrepreneurial and mentor spirit that created HudsonAlpha to entrepreneurs looking to grow in the life sciences community.”

Navigate’s first class of mentors includes a who’s-who of business executives, serial entrepreneurs and civic leaders. The current mentors are:

  • Paul Gierow, Founder, GATR Technologies
  • Matthew Parker, PhD, Associate, Maynard Cooper
  • Kevin Gold, Operating Partner, Integrated Openings Solutions
  • Steve Hettinger, Former engineer, manager and public servant
  • Irma Tuder, Founder and CEO, Analytical Services, Inc.
  • Pat Shields, Senior Financial Advisor, Morgan Stanley
  • Gary Bolton, Vice President Global Marketing, Adtran
  • Barry Derrick, Product Manager, Adtran
  • Danny Windham, COO, HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology
  • Peggy Sammon, CEO, GeneCapture
  • Rex Vaughn, President, Madison County Farmers Federation
  • Michelle Stark, Marketing Director, Red Sage Communications
  • Brian Pollock, CEO and Founder, Kailos Genetics
  • Tom Young, CEO Kord Technologies
  • Richard Marsden, Shareholder, Maynard Cooper

“I’ve been involved with HudsonAlpha for a number of years as a board member and ambassador, and I’m excited for the opportunity to bring my experience as an entrepreneur and business leader to the innovative companies at the Institute,” said Irma Tuder, founder of Analytical Services Inc.

After completing its pilot phase, the program will be available to companies across North Alabama. Companies must be involved in biotech or life sciences for consideration. For information, email mentor@hudsonalpha.org.