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Poster presentations in the pandemic age

On-site science conferences have been put on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving scientists like Nicole Roseman turning to virtual presentations.
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This past February, I had the opportunity to present a poster at AGBT in Marco Island, Fla, and it was an unforgettable experience. As someone whose biggest joy in her work life is learning something new almost every day, attending AGBT was like a learning vacation. I loved soaking up all the information.

It’s one of the reasons that I was looking forward to my next opportunity to present this year at AACR, which was originally scheduled to be held at the end of April in San Diego. Like the rest of the world, we watched the progression of COVID-19 and eventually realized that we would need to convert my experiments and poster presentation to virtual content. 

What was the experience like? My feelings were mixed. I found that a virtual poster presentation induced less anxiety, but it was also less fulfilling. To start with, it’s impossible to capture the ambiance of AGBT or other conferences when you physically can’t be on site. That’s to be expected though, right?

For AACR, all posters were posted online with an optional recording of five minutes maximum. At AGBT, I had an approximate two-hour time slot to discuss science with whomever was interested in stopping at my poster. The delicious hors d’oeuvres didn’t hurt either!

I love discussing science and experiments, and also listening to others’ ideas, which was something that couldn’t take place with the AACR virtual presentation. AACR virtual attendees could submit digital comments, but it wasn’t the same as the give-and-take of ideas that take place at an in-person poster presentation.

The creation of the poster itself was the same. It included cramming until the last minute to get a beautiful PDF that could be released to the public. However, there was no satisfying feeling that comes with printing and seeing your hard work, and physically holding it in your hands for the first time. Of course, it was eco-friendlier, without a pile of paper at the corner of the desk post conference.

The five-minute max audio recording was difficult. It’s not easy to condense months of experiments in combination with a complete chemistry workflow from plasma extraction to sequencing within that short time frame.

Another sniffle that wasn’t related to conferences (rather, it was to COVID-19) was the delay of my experimental goal. I’ve been working on a complete reagent automation workflow for the analysis of cell free DNA (cfDNA) for a few months and I wanted to completely validate before AACR. However, due to labs closing and collaboration decreasing, this had to be postponed. Stay tuned!

With all of that said, there are probably some of you who would like to see my poster presentation. Let me explain it a bit first. My presentation is about automating IDT’s chemistry xGen Prism for library prep and xGen Hyb and Wash kit for target enrichment in collaboration with Beckman Coulter Life Sciences, who have both extraction chemistry and liquid handling robot. In my experiment, we extracted cfDNA from healthy donor plasma. The cfDNA is used to create libraries using IDT’s xGen Prism DNA Library Prep Kit.

Prism’s chemistry is unique in that it has an engineered ligase, unique single stranded ligation, and modified adapters to produce higher conversion. Conversion is important because it is taking the extracted cfDNA and creating a library that has higher unique molecules when compared to other chemistry on the market. I then performed target enrichment using IDT’s xGen hybridization and wash kit.

Target enrichment is specific to the sample type and what type of research/interest you have. I used a custom xGen panel. Panels are used in our target enrichment protocol to pull down the regions of interest from the library. After target enrichment, you sequence all of the molecules of interest. cfDNA extracted from Apostle MiniMax™ High Efficiency Isolation Kit is interesting because you can pull down and investigate low frequency variants.

The complete workflow is enticing because it decreases experimental error and allows labs to investigate low frequency variants in a controlled and reproducible environment.

Without further ado, here is my poster presentation:

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