Thursday, January 14, 2010

Robotic Platform - A choice is made

Our aim in the long run is to establish a platform to "phenotype" (that is measure behavior of) many promoters in different genetic perturbations. The plan is to use the microscope and the FACS to measure the activity of these promoters in living yeast cells using what is called a fluorescent reporter. (I will expand on this point in a future post.)

To establish such a platform we need to be able to continuously feed the microscope with new samples so that we maximize the throughput in terms of the number of measured phenotypes. We are aiming at numbers in the 10,000s, which means that even when we work with 384well plates, we still need many runs.

An important ingredient in achieving this goal is a robotic platform that will allow us to prepare samples for the microscope and then move them onto it. The goal is that the robot will integrate several devices:

In addition the robot should be able to do basic manipulations such as moving liquid from one plate to another, add media, to a plate, and so on. Doing this requires that the robot also have what is called liquid handling capabilities. In other words, that the robot should be able to perform pipette operations: from one well to another, or from multiple wells in parallel. It also means that we the robot needs places to store pipette tips, plates, and media.

During the last year we spent a lot of effort in trying to define our needs and to understand the options available for devices that integrate all of these capabilities. We had long interactions with three companies, Eisenberg Brothers who represents Perkin Elmer, Neotec who represents Tecan, and Agilent, where we interacted directly with their European office.

The process was interesting as we learned a lot about the capabilities of different devices, different ways of using them, and ways of integrating them. This included site visits to installations in Israel, Germany, and the US. The main issue with the choice of robotic platform how to integrate the multitude of devices in a way that will allow seamless operations.

I will not go through the gory details. Agilent has dropped out of the discussion sometime in September as they felt they cannot meet the target price we aimed at. Neotec/Tecan and Eisenberg Brothers/Perkin Elmer stayed in the running and we had long correspondence with people from both. We got to financial negotiation stages with both and finally, after much delays we decided to go with Neotec/Tecan solution.

In the next few weeks I will provide outline of the robot and how we plan to use it.

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