March 1, 2012 (Vol. 32, No. 5)

Last month in San Diego, the Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening (SLAS) held its first conference and exhibition. The meeting took the place of the former LabAutomation and SBS conferences. In addition to lecture presentations, roundtables, and workshops, the conference featured the introduction of a number of innovative new products.

Beckman Coulter Life Sciences launched SPRIworks HT*, a high-throughput system for fragment library preparation on Illumina next-generation sequencers. The product reportedly allows researchers to process libraries with greater speed and sample reproducibility while decreasing processing costs. SPRIworks HT, which utilizes built-in SPRI (Solid Phase Reversible Immobilization)-based per-well size selection, can process 96 fragment libraries in less than six hours with per-well size selection according to company officials.

Bio-Rad Laboratories exhibited its ProteOn™ HTE sensor chip that is intended for pharmaceutical researchers studying the interaction of polyhistidine-tagged protein with small molecule drugs using surface plasmon resonance. The chip’s tris-NTA coated surface uses three NTA molecules instead of the traditional monomer version of the molecule, according to the company. Tris-NTA yields a strong binding interaction with the target, resulting in improved data quality, according to Jill Raymond, Bio-Rad marketing manager for protein interaction technologies.

“Used with Bio-Rad’s high-throughput ProteOn XPR36 system, the HTE sensor chip employs a tris-NTA complex on its surface to bind polyhistidine-tagged molecules,” said Raymond. “This allows researchers to improve binding stability, specificity, and data quality while reducing ligand decay. Bio-Rad has demonstrated that binding stability of polyhistidine-tagged proteins on the HTE sensor chip increased by up to 50% over mono-NTA chips and were approximately twice as selective.”

Bio-Rad Laboratories’ HTE Proteon Sensor Chip

Covaris unveiled the M220™AFA™ (Adaptive Focused Acoustics) Ultrasonicator, which was designed specifically for use with low-cost benchtop next-generation GS sequencers. M220 reproducibly fragments DNA from 150 bp–3 kb, has integrated chilling to save space and cost, and uses standard AFA consumables, explained Brian Paras, director of international sales and strategic marketing.

The company also displayed its new g-TUBE™, a novel consumable for shearing 6 kb to 20 kb DNA fragments. “The g-TUBE has a simple load, spin, and collect design for use on a standard laboratory centrifuge,” continued Paras. “g-TUBE DNA shearing is fast, efficient, economical, and highly reproducible.”

Hamilton Storage Technologies introduced BiOS, the company’s third-generation automated system designed for ultra-low temperature storage of sensitive biological samples. According to Matt Hamilton, vp for Hamilton Storage Technologies, the scalable system ensures the integrity of 250,000 to more than 10 million sample tubes at temperatures down to -85°C.

All samples are stored in chest freezer compartments to maintain temperature stability. All internal workflows, including sample picking, are optimized to keep samples at ultra-low temperatures at all times, he continued, noting that system parts are easily accessible for service and maintenance.

“One- and two-dimension barcode reading and sample tracking produce complete chain-of-custody documentation, with software tools to support 21 CFR Part 11 compliance,” he said. “Multiple redundant back-up systems ensure the samples stay at -85°C, even in emergencies. The BiOS can store and process multiple labware types in the same system.”

Integra Biosciences launched its Viafill™ bulk reagent dispensing, multichannel pipetting and microplate washing instrument. The product comes with a choice of different tubing sets that allow the user to change between these three operation modes. Applications include reagent or media dispensing, cell seeding, plate washing, or serial dilutions.

Operating as a bulk reagent dispenser, the Viavill uses a choice of dispensing tube sets to enable reagent addition in volumes ranging from 0.5 µL to 10 mL into 6-, 12-, 24-, 48-, 96-, 384- and 1,536-well plates. A 16-channel tubing set is available to enable the filling of 384- and 1,536-well plates. All dispensing tubing sets are sold presterilized and are autoclavable enabling them to be re-used for further experiments, noted a company spokesperson.

Labcyte released a new software algorithm that, the company says, permits a greater range of fluid types to be automatically transferred with acoustic energy. “Dynamic Fluid Analysis™ enables the Echo® liquid-handling systems to adapt to fluid properties changes such as surface tension and viscosity and adjusts sound energy in real time with no operator intervention required,” pointed out Mark Fischer-Colbrie, CEO.

Several examples of the QPix 400 next generation of microbial colony pickers from Molecular Devices were on display at SLAS. The 400 series, which includes the QPix 450 and QPix 460, with a third system, the QPix 400, to follow later in 2012, features the option to simultaneously detect colonies and quantify fluorescent markers.

“This prescreening step enables the colonies of interest to be objectively identified and selected,” said Mark Truesdale, Ph.D., head of marketing. “Together with highly accurate robotics and organism-specific colony-picking pins, scientists can ensure that the right colony is picked every time, thus eliminating unnecessary work and expense downstream. An agar height sensor further increases accuracy at the picking stage.”

Applications include areas such as protein expression, biofuel research, enzyme evolution, phage display, DNA sequencing and library generation and management, added Dr. Truesdale.

Epigenetics took center stage, or rather center booth, at the PerkinElmer stand with the launch of high-throughput cellular assays that reportedly allow for the direct measurement of endogenous epigenetic mark modulation for more relevant results.

These assays, based on the company’s ALPHA technology and LANCE® Ultra technologies, are “extremely simple and automatable,” to enable drug target validation and lead compound characterization, replacing more labor-intensive technologies such as Western blot and ELISA, according to Kevin Hrusovsky, president, life sciences and technology at PerkinElmer.

“In addition, the expanded epigenetic biochemical enzymatic assays and detection reagents are specifically validated for drug discovery research, for disease states including oncology and neurodegenerative disorders,” he said.

The new products for SLAS included AlphaLISA cellular detection kits for H3K9 and H3K27, and AlphaLISA and LANCE Ultra In Vitro Toolbox that now covers over 30 validated enzymatic assays for readers and writers of the histone code, continued Hrusovsky.

Covaris’ M220 Ultrasonicator

TAP Biosystems introduced the new RAFT system that comprises a custom RAFT microwell plate, reagents, plate heater and protocol for the production of 3-D cell cultures.

“RAFT enables the production of reproducible 3-D cell cultures in a standard 96-well plate format designed for compound screening and cell biology research,” said Grant Cameron, Ph.D., RAFT development director.

“It uses collagen to create a realistic cellular environment to study cells’ complex behavior and gives scientists complete control over their experimental parameters.”

Researchers can choose cell types and cell seeding densities and create complex co-cultures including multiple layers, if required. A broad range of analytical techniques, such as imaging, biochemical, histological and omics techniques, can be applied to the 3-D cell cultures, he added.

Tecan displayed the QC Kit, a fully integrated performance evaluation tool for its freedom EVO liquid-handling workstations. The product, which was developed via a partnership with Artel, incorporates Artel’s Ratiometric Photometry™ technology within the Freedom Evo system.

The QC Kit, noted Frederic Vanderhaegen, head of life sciences business at Tecan, enables the collection of precision and accuracy performance data regarding the volumes delivered by every channel of a liquid-handling arm. The new tool provides clinical, pharmaceutical, and forensic labs a reliable way to meet an increasing quality and regulatory demand for performance verification, added Vanderhaegen.

Thermo Fisher Scientific placed one of its Orbitor BenchTrak customizable plate movers on the exhibit floor. Equipped with quick-connect modules, the product extends the functionality and versatility of the Orbitor RS plate mover, explained a company official, who described the system as one that provides a fully customizable automation solution that fits into existing laboratory space—either “on-bench” or “in-bench.”

Multiple Orbitor BenchTraks can connect to form complex system layouts, and a range of “click-in” components, such as instrument loading platforms, mezzanines, guarding and microplate stores, can be incorporated to address almost any customer workflow requirement, he added.

The PC-driven Orbitor Benchtrak features Thermo Scientific Momentum 3 software, which, the company claims, enables users to configure it for a wide variety of benchtop workflows, including sample prep, ELISA, nucleic acid and protein purification, cell or biochemical assays, qPCR, and next-generation sequencing.

TTP Labtech introduced three new products at SLAS. The arktic™ -80°C automated bank was designed to provide high capacity storage per cubic meter. With the capacity to hold up to 95,000 0.5 mL tubes, the modular unit can fit into a small footprint, which makes it a consideration for space-restricted laboratories with biobanking needs.

arktic incorporates the features of TTP Labtech’s comPOUND® storage system, thus allowing arktic to offer automated sample retrieval and sample tracking with connection to database and laboratory information management systems. “arktic provides storage under nitrogen or dry air in a hermetically sealed environment, as well as the ability to cherry pick individual microtubes for delivery within 60 seconds, so ensuring the integrity of valuable biological samples is maintained,” said Simon Tullett, product manager at TTP Labtech.

The company also launched mosquito® HV, which was developed to allow scientists to handle low volume serial dilutions and assay plate preparations, across the 500 nL to 5 µL range. In addition, the mosquito HV reportedly can perform serial dilutions in the 2–8 µL final volume range, and can stamp from a mother plate directly to assay plates as part of the same protocol.

TTP Labtech’s third new offering at SLAS was a noncontact sensor-based instrument, aequus. “By providing a safe, automated solution to solvent-level monitoring, analytical chemists can easily keep track of both solvent use and waste overflow during the everyday running of their analytical equipment,” explained Simon Tullett. “The ability to connect aequus to remote user alarms enables around the clock monitoring, helping to protect expensive analytical equipment, as well as the results of valuable chemical analyses.”

Providing up to 12 channels, each aequus unit is capable of monitoring a maximum of six bottles in both solvent supply and waste trays, continued Tullett, who said that aequus addresses one of the currently unmet needs in automated laboratory management.

SLAS New Product Awards

Conference officials also presented the SLAS New Product Award (NPA) Designation to four companies with the top new products showcased on the exhibit floor. This year’s NPA winners are:

  • Dynamic Devices: 96VVP liquid-handling robotic head
  • Fluidix: air film
  • Siloam Biosciences: OptiMax microplates
  • Tecan: HP D300 digital dispenser
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