Wednesday, December 17, 2014

ASCB Show Highlights

Scientifically-speaking (no pun intended with the name of this blog!), we are on the cusp of some amazing breakthroughs in the field of Cell Biology. Over the last decade, cell-based research applications have been growing at a blistering pace, with several sub-application areas leading that charge.  At the ASCB show in Philadelphia last week, this trend was quite evident when walking the Exhibit Hall. The areas of live-cell imaging and 3-dimensional cell biology were strongly represented across the vendor booths. These two areas are growing more quickly than other areas in the Cell Biology market and require some special attention when it comes to application requirements.  Despite a lot of "solutions" advertised at ASCB for these particular areas, not all of them hit the mark.  A company needs to have more than just an in-depth understanding of applications in order to deliver a successful solution. Price, instrument footprint, ease-of-use, software capabilities, modularity, adaptability... there are a host of other factors at play for researchers to consider. 

Some of the most enjoyable aspects of the ASCB show were the numerous conversations I had with existing BioTek customers who voiced how their particular instrument hit the mark for their specific cellular application.  This spanned from imaging to washing to plate reading.  This was a good reminder to me that any instrument is only as strong as the team behind it. 

Another item I thoroughly enjoyed while at ASCB was daydreaming.  Daydreaming?!?  That’s right - I began this blog mentioning how we are on the cusp of some amazing breakthroughs in the field of Cell Biology.  From growing organs for transplant patients to reducing animal testing using 3D cellular models for predicting drug toxicity, novel cellular research capabilities that were only dreamed of half a century ago, are now announced regularly.  The consortium of brainpower driving advancement in this field is staggering.  And contingent on those advancements are research instruments that deliver uncompromising performance, reliability and features.  That is where I had fun daydreaming.  As a Product Manager at BioTek, I can only imagine what innovative new products we will offer over this coming decade -  a decade where cellular research will redefine what is possible, not just in the lab, but all the way to the Clinic. BioTek will keep at the front of researcher's Cell Biology requirements, which will help us continue to launch innovative products such as Cytation 5. Products that will further enable advances in this field and allow performing research you never thought possible. As I stop to consider this, it makes me wonder - what customer stories will we hear at the ASCB show over the coming decade?  Here's an open invitation to stop by our booth at a future ASCB show to let us know how BioTek products have helped your cellular research!      

By: BioTek Instruments, Caleb Foster, Product Manager, Development

Monday, December 15, 2014

Washer Performance Applications Guide

Microplates are the laboratory sample vessel of choice when performing an array of assay types where many samples need to be analyzed or statistical data is required. Regardless of the type or density of microplate used, every assay will require several discrete additions, including both sample and reagents. The removal from and addition of reagent to the wells quickly becomes tedious and error-prone, especially at higher plate densities, if performed manually with hand-held pipettors. Microplate washers were developed to automate many of these steps to overcome these bottlenecks.

BioTek instruments has a rich history in developing microplate washers spanning over thirty years since our first microplate washer, EL402, was designed and manufactured for ELISA assays in 1981. Since that time, BioTek has incorporated multiple technologies into our current microplate washer product line designed to increase microplate processing throughput and improve assay precision relative to manual washing. Over the past several decades BioTek has seen microplate based assays expand to include nearly every field of research. BioTek recently made available an ApplicationGuide detailing tips and tricks to aid in optimizing washer performance for some of the more common applications. You can download the complete version here.

By: BioTek Instruments, Peter J. Brescia Jr., MSc, MBA

Friday, December 5, 2014

Society for Neuroscience

At the recent Society for Neuroscience annual meeting, where BioTek participated in the exhibition, I took a couple of opportunities to walk the aisles, taking in the staggering array of a products, services and research related to neuroscience. Neuroscience is, of course, the study of the nervous system, with many specialized subfields. But what isn't so obvious (at least not to me) is the enormous collective "brain power" of the scientists devoted to neuroscience, and how many highly technical instruments, devices and software products are available to aid in the advancement of the neuroscientists' research. There were more than 25,000 scientific attendees from around the world at this conference – and at times it appeared all 25,000+ were huddled in the poster sessions, each mind trying to absorb as much information as possible in the short 4 day schedule. It's clear that these scientists, with their devotion to the study of neuroscience, will continue to understand the human brain and entire nervous system, continuing to find therapies for neurological disorders and diseases like ALS and Parkinson's (and so many more). 

On a local perspective, we were interested to hear about a program for young scientists, when a representative from the Vermont Brain Bee organization stopped to talk with us. The Brain Bee is a competition for high school age students interested in sharing their knowledge of neuroscience. Winners from the state-level Brain Bee competitions go on to compete in the National Brain Bee and then the International Brain Bee. Best wishes to all future neuroscientists as they compete in the Vermont Brain Bee in 2015!

BioTek Booth

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

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Restoration and Reliability

For the past 18 months I have been working on a restoration project stemming from the harsh winter treatment automobiles are subject to in New England. Long winter months and icy road conditions require the use of salt on the roadways often resulting in lethal (at least to the longevity of the auto) corrosive damage to vehicles. The project began as a fix to free a necessary suspension component to insure proper alignment of the tires after installation of new mud, and more importantly, snow tires. When the attempt to free the parts failed the entire rear suspension, including subframe, were removed from my 2004 Mitsubishi Montero for restoration. After months wrestling with large bolts, paint stripping, sanding, grinding and removal of some components with a torch, the parts are finally ready for the application of a new protective coating.

A thought occurred to me when considering what paint and application system to use: I need a good system that I only have to do once. In many ways this process is analogous to the preparation of a number of the experiments I have run over the years in the lab. First you prepare for the experiment by researching the system being studies, familiarize yourself with the components, prepare the necessary equipment and various other required materials, and finally run the experiment. Often this time and effort comes down to the final step in the process which in the case of restoration of auto parts is applying the protective coating to fend off corrosion, and in the case of a microplate based assay it is acquiring the assay readout on a reliable instrument. Having worked with BioTek instrumentation over the past 7+ years I can attest to the notion that I don't have to worry about the reader performing as anticipated at the end of a long day or week long preparation of an assay when it comes time to collect the data. BioTek offers a range of microplate instrumentation including plate washer, dispensers and readers that can greatly improve ease of workflow and throughput while providing reliable performance. I hope my Mitsu proves to be as reliable with comparable longevity!

By: BioTek Instruments, Peter J. Brescia Jr., MSc, MBA

Friday, October 31, 2014

Cytation 5 - A new perspective on what is Possible

Earlier this year, BioTek gave away a free Cytation 3 Cell Imaging Multi-Mode Reader; entrants to the Think Possible contest were asked to determine what research challenges could be made possible by using the Cytation 3. Well, it turns out that we, at BioTek, like to challenge ourselves just as much as we challenge our customers!  Today is the global launch of our newest imaging product, the Cytation 5 Cell Imaging Multi-Mode Reader, and at first glance it doesn’t seem possible that all this instrument functionality could fit into one system! We kept all that was great about the Cytation 3 and added loads of new hardware and software features to extend its capabilities beyond what we previously thought was possible.   

From fluorescence, to phase contrast, to brightfield to H&E imaging, Cytation 5 not only offers a breadth of imaging modes and magnifications with its 6-objective turret capacity, but some incredible image-based tools for 3D and complex biology such as z-stacking, z-projection, image stitching and powerful image analysis in our Gen5 software. The instrument can also be configured with filter-based and/or monochromator-based plate reading optics for running a wide range of assays ranging from fluorescence, absorbance, luminescence and much more.  An optional laser-based Alpha module can be configured on the system and new tools such as variable bandwidth monochromators and extended dynamic range dramatically increase both the flexibility and sensitivity of the Plate Reader. With a special focus on cell biology, Cytation 5 can also run long-term kinetic imaging or plate reader assays with full temperature and gas control, and can be fitted with optional injectors for inject and read assays. Learn more about these great new imaging features on the Cytation 5 site

So go ahead and dust off those research ideas that you had dismissed as implausible, pull out your old lab notebook and question again those unanswered hypotheses - with Cytation 5 you will adopt a whole new perspective on what is Possible. 

By: BioTek Instruments, Caleb Foster, Product Manager, Development

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