New Tools Enable Life Science Breakthroughs
Advances in lab equipment for increased efficiency, productivity and throughput give researchers the time and ability to make new discoveries.
Manufacturers of laboratory instrumentation and equipment are always pushing the technological limits of their products to advance their users' ability to perform experiments. While this is true for all applications, the life science marketplace is especially relevant due to its rapidly growing nature and increasing value of life science discoveries, breadth and global reach. While there are many dedicated life science products, the field also makes use of most common lab products so improvements in their operation are desired as well.
One of the most visible enhancements in life science laboratory operations has been the proliferation of automation systems. Thermo Fisher Scientific, Waltham, Mass., for example, recently introduced its Automated Nucleic Acid Extraction Workstation, which offers consistent, high-speed purifications by combining several Thermo tools into one turnkey solution. This workstation is designed to provide cost- and time-effective nucleic acid extractions so users can process samples from virtually any source, while ensuring accuracy and sample integrity. The system is ideal for a variety of downstream applications, including sequencing, cloning, PCR and qPCR, allowing the instruments to be used in a complete workflow, alone or even interchanged while the system is running. Thermo systems that can be integrated into this workstation include the company's Kingfisher Flex purification system, Multidrop Combi reagent dispenser, Alps 3000 microplate heat sealer and Orbitor RS or Orbitor BenchTrak automation systems and others.
Agilent Technologies, Santa Clara, Calif., has also developed an automated sample handling system—its Encore Multispan Liquid Handling System—which features the latest in advanced liquid handling technologies in a robust, reliable platform for increased efficiency, productivity and throughput. The system includes an articulated robotic arm with gripper that can reach 53 cm to the right and left sides of the deck to integrate laboratory instrumentation. Patented one-touch easy teaching enables users to create end-to-end workflow integrations with increased range and flexibility. X- and Y-axis variable span pipettors increase the system's throughput and flexibility for complete workflow automation from sample prep to analysis. Two individual banks of multiple pipettes move independently in multiple axes, doubling the throughput of current systems. Each pipette can address a variety of sample formats, from tubes to vials to microplates. Target applications for this system include high-throughput screening, ELISA, ADME/TOX, compound management and sample prep for genomic and proteomic studies.
Imaging is an important technique for life scientists. Light and electron microscopy are both utilized for a broad and varied set of methodologies for macro- and micro-cellular investigations. FEI, Hillsboro, Ore., recently announced a suite of solutions for correlative light and electron microscopy (CLEM), bringing data from these two imaging techniques together automatically in minutes. This gives cell biologists precise information in basically real-time investigations. Scientists believe that correlating this information from the cellular down to the molecular level will lead to breakthrough discoveries that can improve the understanding and treatment of diseases.
Since one workflow does not satisfy all situations, FEI also developed a series of workflows that are flexible enough to cover a broad range of possible applications. It expects to expand that coverage in the future. So far, the CLEM solution set includes Tecnai with iCorr, where a light microscope is incorporated into a transmission electron microscope (TEM) column. Another variation includes CorrSight, where an advanced light microscope is dedicated to the different steps of correlative experiments, which enables researchers to image live cell dynamics and quickly fix those cells for an electron microscope (EM). The company also offers a software solution—MAPS—that allows researchers to correlate between the EM image and an image from any other source through a simple alignment procedure.
Working at the nanoscale
Nanopatterning is a lithographic technique for transferring multiple identical patterns at the nanoscale for numerous life science applications, including drug delivery, drug discovery, disease detection and directed tissue growth from stem cells. To satisfy these application demands, NanoInk's, Skokie, Ill., Dip Pin Nanolithography (DPN) enables researchers to deposit a wide variety of materials on a multitude of surfaces. Biomolecular nanopatterning has become increasingly popular for biology, physics, materials science, engineering and pharmaceuticals.
One of these applications is exemplified in the development of protein arrays for diagnostic and tissue engineering studies. NanoInk has developed novel DPN instruments and materials capable of creating high-quality protein arrays and nanometer to micron scales. These devices have smaller feature sizes than conventional protein microarrays, which allows users to drastically reduce sample size, increase detection sensitivity, improve ability to interrogate sub-cellular features and provide increased compatibility with lab-on-a-chip technologies.
Nanolithography systems have also been used to fabricate arrays of nanometer-scale features that serve as attachment points for thiolated biomolecules. These binding sites are fabricated using a block co-polymer to transport small amounts of gold ions to defined locations onto a substrate. The printed droplets are then heat-treated to form gold nanoclusters at each deposition location. These nanoclusters are then subsequently capable of tethering both protein and DNA molecules.
The ability to pattern materials with nanoscale precision also allows researchers to fabricate multicomponent arrays with sub-cellular scale feature that can function as cellular microenvironments. This capability can be used to expose limited numbers of cells to many different conditions on the same surface.
Analysis of unknowns to ever-smaller concentrations continues to be a targeted application for life science instrumentation manufacturers. At the high end of this measurement spectrum are high powered mass spectrometers. JEOL, Peabody, Mass., recently announced that the 4G model of its AccuTOF GCv offers faster data acquisition rates and higher resolving powers than its predecessor. The 4G provides high-resolution, accurate mass spectra with full-mass-range sensitivity for both qualitative and quantitive analyses. It has a maximum data acquisition rate of 50 spectra/sec and a resolving power of 8,000. The 50 Hz acquisition rate makes it possible to acquire high-resolution mass spectra in combination with third party two-dimensional GC (GCxGC). The 4G has the highest sensitivity (S/N>100 at OFN 1 pg/µL) commercially available in any GC/TOF (gas chromatography time-of-flight) system.
The company's unique combination of EI/FI/FD (electron ionization/flame ionization/field desorption) ion sources offers both molecular weight information (FI and FD) and classical library-searchable (EI) mass spectra without having to change sources. The 4G is the first mass spectrometer to make the powerful FD and FI methods convenient, according to company representatives. While useful in life science applications that include the analysis of samples for forensics, foods, flavors, fragrances and environmental areas, the 4G can also be used to analyze samples for applications in petrochemicals, polymers and basic materials.
Agilent Technologies recently debuted its 1290 Infinity Evaporative Light Scattering Detector (ELSD) and its 1260 Infinity ELSD. These devices provide higher sensitivity, better efficiency and greater reproducibilities than any currently available ELSD device. Both detectors are suited for the analysis of non- and semi-volatile compounds in pharmaceutical, drug discovery, QA/QC, food quality testing, nutraceutical and fine chemical analyses. Both can screen pharmaceutical libraries without the need for time-consuming sample preparation since they eliminate the interference from DMSO—a solvent widely used for sample storage in drug discovery. Both detectors complement Agilent's 6100 Series mass spectrometer systems. The laser-based 1290 Infinity ELSD’s unique evaporator design, coupled with its proprietary gas-flow programming, allows sub-ambient analysis of semi-volatile compounds that cannot be detected with any other brand of ELSD.
In all life science industries, pH plays a crucial role when making buffers or culture media. Researchers at METTLER TOLEDO, Columbus, Ohio, have announced the introduction of their SevenExcellence benchtop meter for precise measurements of pH, conductivity, ion concentration and oxidation reduction potentials (ORPs). This modular device has the ability to measure one, two or three channels in parallel. Its operation is intuitive through use of a 7" touchscreen and unique guided interface. All pre-configured versions are offered as instrument-only versions or kit versions with a choice of intelligent and secure ISM sensors, and can be extended at any time by the end user with additional modules. The device fits three modules in any composition: 1) pH/mV for pH, mV, rel.mV, mV and ISFET measurements; 2) conductivity expansion unit for conductivity, resistivity, salinity and total dissolved solids; and 3) pH/ion expansion unit for pH, mV, rel.mV and ion concentration.
As noted, life science analyses involve a wide range of instrumentation and equipment. Research experiments also involve a range of analysis kits and systems. Beckman Coulter Life Sciences, Orange County, Calif., has announced the addition of 14 new human monoclonal antibodies from Trillium Diagnostics LLC. The analyte specific reagents (ASRs) provide high specificity, convenience and flexibility in flow cytometry. A new cell permeabilization reagent is also being offered.
The new monoclonals include human anti-hemoglobin F, which recognizes fetal hemoglobin molecules; CD163 markers for anti-inflammatory signal and disease research; and CD64 markers, which react with Fc gamma 1 receptors. These characterized, quality-controlled, convenient liquid reagents allow users to spend less time in sample preparation and more time on their experiments.
Life science kits
Beckman also introduced a new flexible, adaptable kit to speed and simplify genomic DNA size selection for next generation sequencing fragment library preparation. Its SPRI (Solid Phase Reversible Immobilization)-based chemistry allows the DNA size distribution to be adjusted between 150 and 800 base pairs to suit the application and sequencing platform. The process can be performed manually or automated for high-throughput systems in 96-well plates on platforms such as Beckman's Biomek Workstations. SPRIselect reagent kits are available in 5, 60 and 450 mL volumes. They enable rapid and consistent size selection and come with guidelines to assist users in customizing protocols. Gel cartidges, chips and additional instruments are not needed.
Bio-Rad Laboratories, Hercules, Calif., has announced the launch of its new CFX96 touch Deep Well real-time PCR detection system, which allows researchers to conduct real-time PCR (qPCR) experiments in large-volume reactions. Designed and validated for detecting up to five targets in reaction volumes between 10 and 125 µL, the CFX96 system offers precise quantification and excellent uniformity with high thermal performance. The redesigned honeycomb thermal block contains six independently controlled thermal electric units, allowing researchers to perform uniform, accurate experiments in large reaction volumes without compromising quantitative data.
Additional benefits of the CFX96 system include: 1) standalone operation with real-time displays of data traces on an intuitive LCD touchscreen; 2) assays are quickly optimized with built-in thermal gradients; and 3) users can quickly analyze their experiments with advanced data grouping tools, such as clustergram and heat map in CFX Manager software.
Bio-Rad has introduced a new chemiluminescent detection reagent, Clarity western ECL substrate. Ideally suited to meet the diverse needs of researchers utilizing western blotting, the Clarity substrate provides excellent results for both high- and low-expression proteins, using either film or digital detection systems. Choosing the correct western blotting detection substrate can be difficult. Researchers would like to use a single high-performance substrate that works well for all types of blots. In practice, most substrates are highly specialized. The Clarity western ECL substrate takes the guesswork out of substrate selection and eliminates the risk of choosing incorrectly. The Clarity western ECL substrate was designed for blots using nitrocellulose, PVDF and low-fluorescence PVDF, and can be used to detect both high- and low-abundance proteins using film or CCD imaging systems for blot detection.