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Jun 1, 2009 (Vol. 29, No. 11)

San Diego Pioneers Cleantech Solutions

Established Biotech Cluster Takes the Lead In Reducing Country’s Dependence on Fossil Fuels

  • San Diego has been a leading hub of the biotech industry, starting with the formation of Hybritech in 1978, a pioneer in mAb-based diagnostics and treatments. Now the San Diego region is at the forefront of one of the newest biotechnology clusters known as cleantech or greentech, which aims to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels through innovative life science strategies.

    In 2007, CleanTech San Diego was formed with the mission to stimulate innovation and adopt clean technologies and sustainable industry practices. Today’s cleantech pioneers continue to leverage local academic and business talent. “We need to feed innovations to discover and commercialize new technology to reduce our carbon footprint and improve the economy of San Diego,” says Lisa Bicker, president of CleanTech San Diego, a nonprofit organization.

  • Room Temperature Biostability

    Click Image To Enlarge +
    Biomatrica’s biological sample-stabilization technology allows samples to be stored at room temperature rather than in freezers.

    Biomatrica’s green technology allows life scientists to store biological samples at room temperature, rather than in -80ºC freezers. “We were surprised how much energy labs can save by eliminating freezers,” comments Rolf Müller, Ph.D., cofounder and CSO.

    In a yet unpublished study conducted at Stanford University in collaboration with Stanford’s Department of Sustainability and Energy Management, about 800 freezers operating at -80ºC were counted in various science buildings. An independent analysis found that Stanford University could save 160,000 million BTUs, reduce its carbon footprint by 15,000 tons of carbon dioxide, and generate a net cost savings of $16 million over 10 years by storing biological samples in Biomatrica’s kits.

    The current kits offered by Biomatrica stabilize purified RNA and DNA or blood samples for long periods. The kits contain reagents to coat samples with a dissolvable glass shield. “We shrink-wrap biomolecules in a protective shell to reduce Brownian motion,” explains Dr. Müller. Accelerated aging experiments, in which encased DNA samples are subjected for two years to high temperatures equivalent to 30 years at room temperature, confirm that no degradation or sample loss occurs, he adds.

    Samples are glass stabilized on the bottom of tubes or in 96-well plates supplied with the kits. RNAstable™ preserves and stabilizes RNA and Poly(A) mRNA samples, and DNA SampleMatrix® protects plasmid and genomic DNA at room temperature storage.

    Qiagen licensed Biomatrica’s first DNA stabilization kit just nine months after it was launched and now markets it as QIAsafe. “That’s a big deal for a young company with a nascent technology,” says Judy Müller-Cohn, Ph.D., cofounder, president, and CEO of Biomatrica.

    The Müllers were inspired to create their energy-saving technology while pondering how extremophiles such as dried brine shrimp, often sold in toy stores, can survive for 100 years and then be revived when hydrated.
    Both scientists worked in high-throughput (HT) laboratories where 10,000 samples were generated daily and stored in -80ºC freezers. They knew firsthand that sometimes freezers break down and valuable samples are lost. They used HT methods common to drug discovery to probe how extremophiles naturally survive stress, then they screened combinatorial libraries to find alternative chemical stabilizers.

    “For each biological sample, we have to find the best glass to stabilize it, depending on surface structure,” says Dr. Müller. New kits are being developed to stabilize proteins, microorganisms, and eukaryotic cells, which will reduce lab freezer costs even further.

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