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Jan 15, 2011 (Vol. 31, No. 2)

Houston Biostartups Strong in Innovation

Companies Ride Robust Economic Wave That's Been Washing Over the State of Texas

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    Rebellion Photonics’ Arrow real-time snapshot hyperspectral camera is shown mounted to the sideport of an inverted microscope.

    Today’s researchers have many exciting new contrast agents to image biological events within cells, “but the instrumentation is lagging behind,” says Robert Kester, Ph.D., co-founder and CTO at Rebellion Photonics. Dr. Kester and colleagues developed a real-time hyper-spectral video camera that is compatible with all standard microscopes. Called the Arrow™, the camera views spectral signatures within cells and decouples them.

    Researchers can now track complex biological processes by visualizing up to 20 different dyes within a single cell. The commonly used fluoresent proteins, green fluorescent protein (FP), cyan FP, and yellow FP, all appear green under a microscope because their wavelengths differ by just a few nanometers.

    “Our system decouples multiplexed signals, and you can view them in real time,” says Dr. Kester.

    Researchers use the Arrow to understand how neurons fire and change with age and to find biomarkers for cancer and degenerative and infectious diseases. Endogenous signals such as autofluorescence can be isolated and removed to enhance quality. Images are obtained in a single snapshot, and the Arrow is more sensitive, faster, less phototoxic, and extends the life of cells compared to conventional scanning microscopy, according to Dr. Kester.

    GlycosBio leveraged technology from Rice University that uses microorganisms to convert nontraditional carbon sources, such as glycerol and fatty acids, into higher value chemicals. The company is focused on producing isoprene, 1,3 propane diol, and ethanol. When polymerized, isoprene can be turned into latex or automobile tires, and 1,3 propane diol into fibers for carpet or clothing.

    The company’s partners in other parts of the world “have lots of glycerol and want to make it into ethanol to build up a domestic supply,” says Paul Campbell, Ph.D., CSO. Malaysia’s palm oil industry produces glycerol as a byproduct, and GlycosBio is setting up a facility there to ferment it into ethanol.

    Closer to home, the company is looking for joint ventures to dispose of glycerol or fatty acids generated during biodiesel refining. Now considered waste products that are hauled away, GlycosBio plans to plug into a plant’s existing infrastructure to cost-effectively convert them to desirable products.

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