Automation innovations provide twin boost for lab efficiency

1st April 2013

Known as Crystal Farm, a new imaging system developed in the USA simplifies and automates protein crystallisation by integrating incubation at chosen temperatures together with optical imaging of the crystal growth plates at pre-scheduled intervals. This accelerates the process of growing diffraction-quality protein crystals.

Launched by Bruker BioSciences Corporation, it is part of an expanded set of integrated tools to produce protein crystal structures at an accelerated pace.

Crystals harvested from the Crystal Farm are then characterised using a Bruker AXS Proteum X-ray system. For high-throughput applications, this includes the latest high-brilliance Microstar X-ray source, a highly sensitive and fast readout Proteum CCD detector, as well as a BruNo robotic sample handler. The system is driven by the Proteum software suite, which contains new modules for determining crystal quality. The suite provides a robust interface for automated sample screening and data collection.

Matthew M Benning, senior applications scientist for protein crystallography, explained: "The BruNo robot provides a highly efficient method for evaluating crystals. It enables fast and reliable sample handling under cryogenic conditions. The Proteum automation, bright source and fast detector allow for quick and accurate data acquisition for crystallography.“

A complete system, including Crystal Farm, BruNo and a Proteum with Microstar, will be delivered shortly to the structural genomics consortium at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Welcoming this fact, professor George N Phillips Jr, said: "The University of Wisconsin's Center for Eukaryotic Structural Genomics is pleased to be working directly with Bruker AXS on the further development of high-throughput protein crystallography. Our co-location in Madison and the strengths of both sides of the collaboration make this an endeavour that will yield mutual benefits and produce better current and future applications for protein crystallography.

Roger Durst, Bruker AXS chief technology officer and life science product line manager, pointed to the increasing interest in high-throughput structural genomics in both basic biosciences and drug discovery: "That this is a high national priority is reflected in, for example, the recent announcement and the significant funding of the second phase of the NIH protein structure initiative. Our new integrated crystallography tools fulfil the needs of this rapidly growing market for powerful solutions to make high-throughput structural genomics a working reality.“

And a Crystal Farm has already been installed in Europe, according to Daniel Frankel, product manager for life-science business development: "Automation of the protein crystallisation process is an exciting advance in our field. We are pleased with the interest in the Crystal Farm by the pharmaceutical and structural genomics communities in North America. Our recent installation of a Crystal Farm at the University of Zurich is helping this technology gain momentum in Europe as well.“

Controlling automation platforms

Tecan, a leading player in the life sciences supply industry, has opened what it describes as the next chapter in the history of liquid handling automation.

According to the company, Freedom EVOware brings a new dimension to controlling robotic platforms. The software provides unmatched combination of flexibility and ease-of-use for beginners with no experience and automation experts setting up complex multi-device schedules. The new control software for automation platforms was recently presented at the LabAutomation exhibition in San Jose, California, USA.

From lab technicians running protocols to system integrators extending the system with new devices, Tecan says Freedom EVOware offers a superior working experience through its ease-of-use. A completely new, consistent and intuitive graphical user interface truly simplifies the control of the Freedom EVO, from basic pipetting protocols on a Freedom EVO 100, to multi-plate scheduled runs on a fully configured Freedom EVO 200.

Freedom EVOware is the first liquid handling and robotic control software to provide pipetting and dynamic scheduling in one package, opening the door of advanced assay control to a whole new group of users. In addition, Freedom EVOware supports laboratories working under the FDA's 21 CFR part 11 regulation that need multilevel user management, full audit trail, electronic records and electronic signatures.

"The software is ideal for all levels of experience, as it guides users through the program and is capable of managing the most complex scheduling and operative tasks. Freedom EVOware is the ideal software to complement our Freedom EVO series of liquid handling platforms as it is designed to fully utilise the platforms' powerful features for all biopharmaceutical and research applications,“ noted Christoph Kaufmann, Tecan's marketing manager liquid handling and robotics.

Freedom EVOware's intuitive graphical user interface sets new standards in user friendliness. Worktable definition is simplified through drag and drop robotic moves, and protocols creation is accelerated through application templates. 3D simulation allows the user to see the process before running it on the Freedom EVO, thus saving valuable time optimising protocols.

Freedom EVOware offers system integrators an extendable library of over 75 drivers for detection, separation, robotics and plate handling and storage devices from Tecan and third party vendors. System customisation is supported through a variety of open interfaces for device drivers, automation, worklisting and messaging delivering flexibility at all levels.





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