Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Biological Observation and Microscopy

Aristotle originated the scientific method over 2,000 years ago based on developing reliable knowledge from observation. Islamic and Renaissance polymaths such as Ibn al-Haytham and Galileo Galilei perfected the method to include developing a hypothesis based on observation and devising experiments to confirm, refute or adjust the hypothesis - but observation remains the key first step. In the science of biology, this can sometimes be rather difficult as many organisms and their natural processes are invisible or poorly visualized by the naked eye. As demonstrated in the figure below, our eyes can discern a flea, but not its morphology. Conversely, an optical microscope has no problem establishing its body parts. The main participants of the human reproductive system stand on either side of our ability to see them: we can just make out a human egg with our eyes; but not sperm cells. That takes an optical microscope.

Most cells are smaller than sperm. The typical mammalian cell is on the order of 20 to 30 microns in diameter and is thus completely invisible to the naked eye. Yeast cells and bacteria are about ten times smaller and of about the same dimension as the larger organelles with a cell, such as the nucleus. Smaller organelles, such as mitochondria are of a size close to the limit of an optical microscope's ability to resolve fine structure as defined by the Abbe Limit which dictates that the best resolution you can get is about 200 nm. Yet physicists have found ways to bend the Abbe Limit through super-resolution techniques that drop resolution capabilities of optical microscopes down by about an order of magnitude, such that virus particles can be viewed. 

By switching from light rays to streams of electrons, the ability to resolve fine structure in biology can be significantly improved. One can calculate an Abbe Limit for transmission electron microscopy which yields a resolution of about 2Å, sufficient to visualize proteins and protein complexes. Of course the electrons stream only in a vacuum, so don't expect to do any live cell work!

By: BioTek Instruments, Peter Banks Ph.D., Scientific Director

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Why Do Leaves Change Color?

Earlier this week we celebrated the autumnal equinox, one of only two days in the year in which the Sun crosses the celestial equator. These first days of Fall mean shorter days and cooler temperatures, but here in Vermont one also finds apple picking, harvest festivals and ever-popular cider donuts.  One of my favorite things to do in the Fall since I was a kid is to take an annual hike to the top of Mt. Mansfield, the state's highest peak at an elevation of 4,393'. On a recent family hike up the mountain, my boys were amazed by the early changing of leaves.  Like many other parts of the world, Fall in Vermont brings lots of nice yellow and orange to our hillsides. However, we’re fortunate in this part of the US to have one of the largest populations of maple trees. Maples, especially Sugar Maple and Red Maple, contain special red chemical compounds produced in the Fall adding to the brilliant color. While my older son raced up the trail ahead of our group, I was a bit taken back when my 7 year old stopped in amazement at his first glimpse of the valley from tree line and said, "I know why leaves change color, Dad."  He then went on to recite his lesson, second grader appropriate of course, nearly word for word.  While I remembered it had do with chlorophyll and more sunshine meant better foliage, a crucial part of the Vermont economy, my little one knew nearly as much as me a 40-year old native.  I was therefore delighted a few days  ago to see the American Chemical Society release a fascinating video explaining why leaves produce their amazing Fall color.
Now it's all coming back. This year marks BioTek's 46th anniversary of operating its business from the beautiful Green Mountain State. 

By: BioTek Instruments, Jason Greene, Sr. Product Marketing Manager

Thursday, September 25, 2014

There is Nothing Like a Deadline to Give One a Little Focus

Dr. Norman Alpert, who was not only the founder of BioTek Instruments, but also the chairman of the physiology department at the University of Vermont for nearly three decades, once said to me "There is nothing like a deadline to give one a little focus". This statement was made during one of the many chats we had over the years. You see, Dr. Alpert would, on at least a weekly basis, stop in my office on his way from the University to BioTek and talk science. Sometimes the discussions were regarding the research his lab was doing or possibly a project at BioTek I was working on, but often it was just some interesting topic of the day. That particular day the discussion was about his NIH grant renewal that he was working on.

Now here was a man who was at the top of academic science, and also the chairman of a multimillion dollar company. One would think he was the most organized person on the planet and as such deadlines would never be an issue, but the fact that he made this statement just a week before a substantial NIH grant proposal was due made me realize that everyone deals with deadlines in pretty much the same way. Humans itemize the numerous tasks they need to accomplish based on some sort of priority; only as a deadline for the task approaches does it become prioritized high on the list.

Throughout his career, Dr. Alpert was able to accomplish many things by focusing and meeting deadlines. Part of meeting deadlines is having instrumentation that you can rely on to be accurate and dependable. In the course of his research Dr. Alpert had to design reliable instrumentation to fit his needs, yet be affordable. From this need, BioTek was born.

Dr. Alpert passed away a number of years ago, but that reliability and affordability is still built into all BioTek products. None more so than our newest imaging plate reader, the Cytation 3, which has its own ability to focus. This reader has been designed to automatically focus and make digital microscopic fluorescent images in microplates. Besides temperature control and a number of different fluorescent wavelength options, reagent injectors and CO2 and O2 gas control are available for live cell experiments. I think that Dr. Alpert would have been pleased with this instrument.

By: BioTek Instruments, Paul Held, PhD., Laboratory Manager

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Mikhail Baryshnikov, Gregory Hines, Usher, and…the Cytation™ 3?

My daughter (seen above) is a dancer, and has been since the age of 3. Most evenings you can find me driving her to and from the two dance studios which she attends to take classes in multiple forms of dance, including contemporary, jazz, musical theater, tap, and ballet. Many times as I am watching her, I am amazed that one hour she can be moving as graceful as a swan, then with a quick change of shoes and a drink of water, her feet are tapping faster than a penguin in "Happy Feet", and then with a final change she is dancing so cool and smooth, even Usher would be proud. I’m also amazed at how she can make a difficult variation from "The Nutcracker" look so easy to perform; even when dancing en pointe.

This is much the same with the Cytation 3 Cell Imaging Multi-Mode Reader. In a typical day researchers can analyze the potential cytotoxic effect of a test compound through the use of a luminescent cell viability kit, assess protein-protein interactions using a TR-FRET assay, determine transfection efficiency through image-based subpopulation analyses, and monitor reactive oxygen species activation in real time using kinetic microscopy, just to name a few possibilities. The imager, combined with its data analysis package, Gen5, can also make difficult types of analysis, such as that from 3D tumor invasion assays become much easier to accomplish.

(3D tumor invasion in response to CXCL12 chemoattractant monitored over 120 hours)

While we might not see the Cytation 3 starring in any upcoming episodes of "Dancing With the Stars", I would venture to say that the smiles appearing after seeing the images and data generated from a complicated experiment will be very similar to those I have every time I see my daughter dance.

By: BioTek Instruments, Brad Larson, Principal Scientist

Thursday, September 11, 2014

6 Signs You Were in College in the 1990’s

  1. You made transparencies for your class presentations. You can still remember it: the heat of the overhead projector light, the smell of the erasable markers, the taste of your fingertip as you try to quickly wipe away a mistake. At the time, this was advanced technology policed by the school’s A/V department. Nowadays, everyone can walk around with their own pocket-sized projector when a tablet screen just won't do.
  2. You had a small collection of floppy disks. Okay, maybe it was a large collection since those things couldn’t hold much data anyway. Now, we can transfer and store files up to 128 GB in a tiny thumbdrive, the size of, well, your thumb.
  3. The Discman served all of your portable music needs. It was the perfect device - unless you actually wanted to use it while moving. And if 3-second skip protection wasn’t enough, you were probably first in line when the first MP3 players came to market in the late 1990's which paved the way for, you know.
  4. Beep!Beep! Beep! Is that my pager going off? Oh, it's yours. All over college campuses, you didn't have to be prescribing drugs or dealing drugs to carry a pager. It was the easiest way for people to find you at ALL times. An omen of things to come...
  5. "You've got mail!" AOL gave us this iconic tagline, Instant Messenger and inspired a movie! It seemed like they could do no wrong, but now their popularity has faded away to the point where anyone younger than 20 may have to Google it.
  6. What has an eyepiece, a stage, a focus knob and objectives? That's right, a microscope. There’s no doubt that you used one in your college years and continue to use one today. Unlike the examples above, you may not see much of a difference in terms of outward appearance. But much like the examples above, technology has vastly improved. Just like your smartphone has apps for your everyday needs, the Cytation 3 has modules for your scientific needs - including imaging, in a single device. See it for yourself, don't get stuck in the 90's!

By: BioTek Instruments, Ellaine Abueg Ph.D., Product Manager, Specialist

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Desk Selfie Caption Contest


What do an article on ‘Interpretation and estimation of relative potency in vaccines’ and the cover of the July 2014 issue of Food Technology magazine have in common? You tell us! We are holding a contest to select a winning caption for this selfie of my desk (of course there is a prize). We will be accepting captions for the picture via the Comments of this blog posting. The caption can be a traditional ‘cartoon’ format such as found in newspapers or magazines, or a take on how a scientist may describe the visual as a Figure or illustration in a published paper or conference poster. An example caption could be something like: “Ok, I was really good getting my Bordetella vaccine at the vet today, so hurry and serve up my reward s’il vous plaît”. There are no restrictions on who may participate or be eligible for the prize, but all entries are reviewed for content. The winner and ‘honorable mentions’ will be announced during our free webinar ‘Estimating Relative Potency for CVB using Gen5 Software’ September 25, 2014 at 12:00 pm EST (11:30 am sign-in). You may register for the event here. Woof Moo Neigh Meow...

By: BioTek Instruments, Wendy Goodrich, Applications Scientist

Thursday, August 14, 2014


On August 10, the world was dazzled by the second Supermoon of 2014. Millions of people around the world saw the spectacular moon, millions of photos were shared on social media and millions of people talked about the Supermoon over the water cooler, at the grocery store and at the gas station. Besides being one of the most amazing visual treats in the night sky, this Supermoon enticed people to sit and quietly behold it’s beauty…to stop our busy lives for a minute, an hour – just to look, wonder and imagine. Parents everywhere doubtless woke their children up from sound sleeps to bring them outside, to look up at the sky and share nature’s wonder as a family. The moon has always fascinated humankind…and the Supermoons serve to re-kindle our fascination with all things astronomical. Scientists now study celestial events with technologies that are, at the same time, remarkably unchanged from early science, but vastly improved over time; this is true of instruments used in many scientific fields. The images we've seen of the perigee moon (as it’s known to astronomists) over the past few days are just incredible and awe-inspiring. Here’s a beautifully detailed image, taken by our colleague, Caleb Foster:

Photo taken in Jericho, Vermont, with a Meade 2080B Schmidt Cassegrain 8” telescope and Nikon D800 camera. 
The next Supermoon is in September 2014…the world will be waiting and watching!

By: BioTek Instruments, Lenore Buehrer, Senior Product Marketing Manager