Interview

Giving labs the tools to be successful

5 questions with Douglas Storts
Laurel Oldach
December 18, 2020

For almost three decades, Douglas Storts has been developing tools for genetic amplification at the reagent supply company Promega in Madison, Wisconsin. "I've enjoyed working on lots of projects," he said. "There's been a huge variety over the years."

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Name: Douglas Storts

Current position: Head of Research, Nucleic Acid Technologies, Promega Corporation

Career path: Ph.D., microbiology, Miami University, 1980
Postdoctoral research: University of Chicago

First job outside of academia: Ambion, a molecular biology startup in Austin, Texas

Favorite molecule: DNA

According to Storts, the throughline that ties his group's work on genetic changes in astronauts to cancer diagnostics is that they always are working to solve puzzles. ASBMB Today caught up with him for the latest in our series on industry careers. This interview has been condensed and edited.

As the head of research in nucleic acids at Promega, what do you work on?

I manage a group of about two dozen scientists working on projects related to nucleic acid amplification and genotyping. The products we develop are used for forensic testing, molecular diagnostics and also in the life science research community. We develop tools that we can give to laboratories across the world and enable them to be successful.

What's most challenging about your work?

With some of these assays, we're looking at 30 or more different targets in the genome in a single amplification reaction that has to be extremely robust and extremely efficient. We need to reliably detect copies of DNA every time, time after time. In forensic tests, the samples are almost unimaginable. Whatever they find at a crime scene, in whatever quantity, they want to test it: telephones, bloodspots, bodies — anything.

How did you come to work at Promega?

I recognized early on that I was not interested in an academic position. After I received my Ph.D. and did a postdoc, I went to a small startup company in Austin, Texas, for about two years. I transferred to Promega in 1991 based on a recommendation from a recruiter. I have not looked back.

What traits do you look for in a potential hire?

No. 1 skill: communication. It would be great to have somebody come in with a technical background exactly aligned with what I need. That rarely happens. So what I want is somebody who has good communication skills who can take direction without being offended and can reach out for help when they have any questions. I can teach anyone to do almost anything. They have to be able to listen.

This second skill is being able to think outside the box. If somebody thinks A plus B must equal C, then if A plus B equals anything other than C, they're totally flustered. When you show them they've walked into this with a box around their thoughts and the data clearly indicate the answer lies outside of the box, they begin to understand: You've got to think outside the box to solve complex problems.

What career advice do you give young scientists?

Work hard. Be creative. Be a team member. My perception is there are a lot of folks that have a big gap in one of those three areas.

(Would you like to suggest an ASBMB member who works in industry for a Five Questions interview? Send an email to ASBMB Today.)

Laurel Oldach

Laurel Oldach is a science writer for the ASBMB.

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