Flow cytometry has emerged as a powerful tool in the life sciences. In molecular biology, when used with fluorescence-tagged antibodies, the technique is employed primarily to identify cells (phenotyping) and to acquire specific cellular functional information. While the most common research application is multicolor immunophenotyping, flow cytometry can be used in medicine for such diverse applications as HIV research, vaccine development, leukemia and lymphoma studies, investigations into graph-versus-host disease, tumor immunology, and autoimmune disorders.
In addition to identifying specific cells, flow cytometry has aided studies of cell activation, stem cells, cell signaling, cell development, and apoptosis. Although the majority of applications exploit the identification of fluorescent markers on the surface of cell membranes, flow cytometry also detects and analyzes soluble proteins or analytes inside the cell, thus providing information at the protein-cell level.
In marine biology, flow cytometric characterization of the autofluorescent properties of photosynthetic plankton has uncovered the complex community structure of marine populations.
Every enabling technology associated with flow cytometry, including reagents and hardware, has grown with the diversity of flow cytometry applications. Today’s lasers provide a nearly unlimited variety of practical wavelengths and powers. With more colors to choose from, the analysis of the cell population(s) of interest becomes more specific.