Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Brasil Biofuel

Here at BioTek we have been interested in biofuel research for some time. Our interests were largely US-centric and focused on both second and third generation biofuel production since generating ethanol from foodstuffs like corn while widely done in the US, are simply non-sustainable.  We not only need the food, but the conversion of corn starches to ethanol is relatively inefficient (it requires petroleum).  In most cases, cars in the US run on petroleum with some augmentation of ethanol from corn – about 10%.

So I was amazed to find cars in Brazil running on 100% ethanol.  Brazil’s decades-old ethanol fuel program is based on the most efficient sugarcane cultivation in the world. Sugarcane-based ethanol has an energy balance that is 7 times greater than that of corn-based ethanol.  There are no longer any cars in Brazil running on 100% gasoline.  Instead, there are flexible-fuel vehicles that can run on 100% gasoline, 100% ethanol or any blend of gasoline/ethanol. But beware of switching fuels! There is a sensor in Brazilian cars for which fuel is being used. If fuel is switched when the tank is near empty, then the vehicle must run for about 10 km otherwise the sensor gets confused and will require replacement as the car won't start! Ethanol is cheaper than gasoline, provides more power but gets about 35% less mileage.

Ethanol is cheap in Brazil!

Together, Brazil and the US lead the world in the industrial production of ethanol fuel, accounting together for almost 90% percent of the world's production. Brazil is considered to have the world's first sustainable biofuels economy based on first generation methods, largely due to its enormous amount of highly arable land available.  Sugarcane grows like weeds in Brazil; in the US, weeds grow like weeds so we must be content to develop second and third generation biofuel production methods...

 Sugarcane stretches to the horizon around Ribeirao Preto



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

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Wanna share? No way, just get your own!


Sharing is a fundamental lesson taught during childhood. You had to share your toys, share your treats and, inadvertently, even share your germs. It’s not any different in adulthood either. At homes around the world, it has been a long-standing tradition, and some might even say crucial to human existence, to share our money by providing food, clothing and shelter to our family. It doesn’t stop there either - at work, we may be expected to share equipment. And I’m not talking about the ruler you keep lending out… I’m talking about the washers, readers and microscopes in the core lab. Let me remind you about what’s NOT fun about sharing here:


  • You have to sign up ahead of time. The only opening is Thursday but your cells are going to be ready on Tuesday! And more bad news: the person who signed up for Tuesday wrote in pen.
  • Not everyone is as clean as you are. Biohazard signs are everywhere but someone snuck in a granola bar. Or you have to work with sticky surfaces. It could be Gatorade, or it could be something else. You’re better off not smelling it to make sure.
  • Who gets the blame? Hopefully, only the settings are wrong but most likely, it needs to be repaired. Either way, it definitely wasn't me.

I know, I know, sometimes you don’t have a choice but to share equipment. But sometimes you do have a choice and it’s always better to have your own. That’s when you call BioTek. 

Every scientist has a funny/scary/unbelievable story to share about core lab equipment. I've even heard it to be comparable to sharing a toothbrush. Amuse us by writing it in the comments below! 


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


Friday, May 2, 2014

Scientists Passionately Think Possible

We recently held a "Think Possible" Application Contest, where we asked entrants to submit a short essay describing the application they thought was possible using the imaging and multi-mode plate reading capability of our Cytation™ 3 Cell Imaging Multi-Mode Reader. We received entries from all over the world, each hoping to win a free Cytation 3. As we reviewed and discussed the submitted essays, we realized that these researchers were united by another common goal - an enthusiastic quest to understand and improve the world.

Many of the researchers were waging war on diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, heart disease and cancer; attacking from different angles while looking for ways to understand, treat, and prevent. In fact, our contest winner, Dr. Jeffrey Peterson from Fox Chase Cancer Center in Pennsylvania, studies chemical biology and kinase signaling in breast cancer in order to “identify weaknesses in cancers’ armor”. There were also novel studies, involving toxic algae blooms, tarantula spider venom, in situ monitoring of microplastic intake by zooplankton, and self-sustaining waste to energy processes.

It’s clear that the research applications aren't simply 9-to-5 jobs for many of the entrants. Rather, they may be personal motivations. Here are some excerpts:
  • “Transformation starts with a single idea. An idea that is unique and begins to shape the change that we wish to see in the world…Change doesn’t happen overnight, but new ideas, enabled by novel technology such as the Cytation™ 3, allow for the change that people desperately need. So let’s start transforming the world.”
  • “I like to dream we'll be able to find evidence to help us defeat heart disease. I think it is possible to give future generations a world with fewer problems to think about and more time to enjoy life.”
  • “The moment of inspiration; eyes widen, pupils dilate, and understanding comes to light. In that moment, the scientist of the next generation has emerged…An instrument like the Cytation 3 would revolutionize our ability to upscale sample screens, inspire students with the marvels of modern biotechnology, and create the next generation of well trained and impassioned scientists.”
Scientists are a unique lot. No matter where we are…perhaps at home, in the lab, or simply stepping outside to enjoy the fresh, spring air…we ask the questions “how?”, “why?” and “what if?”. Dr. Peterson’s essay echoes this sentiment, asking, “What if there were no limits to the assays we could do?” He then answers his own question, noting, “When both approaches are feasible simultaneously, the debate between phenotypic and targeted screening approaches dissolves to reveal a new world of possibilities.”

Like Dr. Peterson, researchers innately NEED to UNDERSTAND, and when facing the seemingly impossible, we THINK POSSIBLE. It’s ingrained in our DNA, and perhaps one day, someone will unlock the THINK POSSIBLE biomarker.

We think that it is indeed possible.


By: BioTek Instruments

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Cytation 3 - The First Year

The Cytation™ 3 Cell Imaging Multi-Mode Reader was launched one year ago today, and what an exciting year it’s been! Cytation 3 has circled the globe and been challenged by many interesting samples, ranging from cells, tissues to even whole organisms.

BioTek understands the importance of the cell as the most basic unit of life and its place as a model system for life science research. Our microplate instruments reflect this importance by enabling cell-based assays from seeding microplates with cells, automating assay workflows and detecting assay readouts, either kinetically or as endpoints. But it was the advent of the Cytation 3 that brought together conventional PMT-based microplate reading with CCD-based automated digital microscopy that allow for the capture of rich phenotypic information and meaningful quantitative data from the same microplate well. Our customers have used this enabling capability in the fight against cancer and neurodegenerative diseases, stem cell biology and with 3D cell culture systems in an effort to replace the use of animal models in drug discovery.

The response we received this first year has been amazing! Cytation 3 won the SelectScience Scientists’ Choice Award for Best Drug Discovery Product, the Miptec New Product Innovation Award, and the Thermo Fisher Scientific Extraordinary New Product Line Award. Additionally, Cytation 3 is a finalist in the Edison Awards competition - winners will be announced April 30, 2014.

There are now numerous Cytation 3 instruments in over 30 countries... far exceeding BioTek's initial forecast...and the momentum continues to build. Cytation 3 is helping researchers across the globe to "Think Possible" in research applications from angiogenesis to zebrafish embryo development, and everything in between.

4X Zebrafish Embryo

So as we celebrate Cytation 3's first anniversary, we wanted to thank all of our customers, employees, and supporters for making Cytation 3 a huge success. And just as Cytation 3 helps researchers to "Think Possible", we promise to continually "Think Possible" when it comes to developing new ways to increase and expand reading and imaging applications.


By: BioTek Instruments

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

You Can Bank on Stem Cells!

Stem cell research has remained in the spotlight for the better part of a decade now, for better or for worse. Since the discovery of human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) questions pertaining to their moral and ethical procurement and use for research and treatment has been scrutinized. Many of these issues were quelled by the discovery that somatic cells could be reprogrammed to a state similar to that of the hESC (i.e. pluripotent)  Most recently, Nature reported work surrounding a new methodology for reprogramming human somatic cells to a pluripotent state by chemically stressing them (likely many of us have a substantial reserve of them!) While intriguing, the report has come under scrutiny and independent verification of its usefulness as a method to generate induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) remains to be seen. Regardless, the landscape is changing as reports on the use and interest in generating iPSCs with high genetic variability continues to infiltrate a broad range of scientific fields.

Early innovators in the field of stem cell biology pointed to the powerful experimental models that could be generated if easily harvested cells from an individual exhibiting a disease of interest could be reprogrammed to iPSCs.  By then differentiating these cells to a cell type particular to the disease being investigated it would be possible to examine a model with a more relevant genetic background. The use of iPSC derived cell lines would help overcome several disadvantages inherent with current models. These include primary human tissue or cadaveric tissue which have low availability and are subject to variability for a variety of reasons and immortalized cell lines that can exhibit significant alterations in biological function.  In fact many of the immortalized cell lines, such as CHO and HEK cell lines, were at the center of high-throughput screening and lead optimization campaigns over the recent past that have seen high candidate failure rates during clinical trials. It is thought that the use of cell lines with a more relevant genetic background coupled with phenotypic screening may prove more fruitful.

The increased efficiency of producing patient-specific iPSC lines over the past decade has lead to a relatively large number of cell lines derived from donors with a wide range of disease types.  As a mechanism to help provide worldwide access to the ever increasing number of available cell lines, efforts have been made to establish large banks to provide not only disease specific cells but genetically diverse iPSCs for population genetic studies. Several programs have now been sponsored in the US, UK, and China (http://www.nature.com/nbt/journal/v31/n10/fig_tab/nbt.2710_T2.html).

While the importance of such banks may be obvious the challenges are many. Significant work still needs to be done to standardize methods, characterize each cell line, improve reprogramming methods (particularly efficiency) and decrease costs. In fact cost may be the single biggest obstacle to the adoption of iPSC derived cell models by the pharmaceutical industry as the cost is estimated to be at least an order of magnitude more expensive than the use of immortalized cell lines. Without the backing of Pharma these banks may remain limited in scope if having to rely on public funds to finance future growth.

References

Novak, T.,  Grieshammer, U.,  Yaffe, M., and S. Madore (2012/14): Resetting the course of drug development: stem cell banking in support of drug discovery. In Drug Discovery World 15 (1), pp. 14–21.


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


Enabling the Latest Trends in Cell-Based Assays


BioTek Instruments focuses its attention on the latest scientific developments in cell-based assays. A central theme is to develop assays with greater physiological relevance such that disease models can be better understood, drugs developed with better efficacy and safety issues probed without resorting to extensive animal testing. This is manifest in the following trends seen over the last few years which are supplanting previous tools and methods.


BioTek microplate instrumentation is designed specifically to enable these latest trends in cell-based assays from both a workflow automation and detection perspective. The following application notes and scientific publications demonstrate this capability.

Primary Human Cells

Live Cell Kinetic Assays


Visit the Tech Resources section of www.biotek.com for more Application Notes covering our full line of microplate instrumentation.


By: BioTek Instruments

Friday, March 21, 2014

Using Raman Emission to Improve ELISA Reactions

The enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) is one of the most commonly used assay technologies in the biomedical field today. The ELISA format typically uses a microplate to quantitate an analyte in a liquid sample through its interaction with a specific antibody. The technology combines the specificity of antibodies with a standardized assay process and format that is very amenable to automation. Because of its popularity, efforts are continually being made to improve assay performance. Toward that end, Sword Diagnostics has developed a substrate for ELISA reactions that produces a Raman emission that can be used as a direct replacement substrate for commonly used peroxidase conjugates.

Figure 1.  Energy Level Diagram of Raman and Fluorescence Signals.
Raman emission is a light scattering event where photons interact with the vibrational modes of a molecule’s electrons to gain or lose energy from the interaction and scatter at shifted frequencies (Figure 1). Unlike fluorescence there is no electronic transition and spontaneous emission of a photon. The Raman shift is dependent on the structure of the interacted target bonds and the environment of the bonds that the incident light interacted with. Resonance Raman is a special scattering event where the excitation wavelength is carefully tuned to be very close an electronic transition. Such overlap can result in scattering intensities which are increased significantly. The main difference between Raman scattering and fluorescence is the excited state lifetime. Fluorescence excited states are longer-lived than the 'virtual' states associated with Raman scattering.

Figure 2.  Comparison of Raman and Absorbance signal IL-6 ELISA Dose Response Curves. 
The data obtained using an absorbance-based TMB substrate and a Raman-based Sword peroxidase substrate both generate sigmoidal shaped calibration curves that can effectively be described using either a 4- or 5-parameter logistic fit (Figure2). However, the dose response of the Raman based reagents is significantly shifted leftward to lower concentrations. This indicates that the Raman substrate is capable of detecting approximately five-fold lower sample concentrations as compared to the absorbance based substrate with no other changes to the assay.

Raman and resonance Raman scattering measurements are usually performed using an expensive dedicated tunable laser based instrument with detection primarily taking place in the IR portion of the spectrum. Sword peroxidase chemistry employs reagents that have emissions in the near IR spectrum that an appropriately configured Synergy H4 Hybrid Multi-Mode Microplate Reader from BioTek Instruments is capable of detecting with high sensitivity. This combination of chemistry and hardware provides an increase in ELISA sensitivity without the additional costs of a dedicated instrument.


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