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Fields & Applications Genomics & DNA Analysis

What Do You Want ‘Now’?

We live in a world of ‘now’. How many times have we heard “I need these results ASAP”, or dreaded, “I can’t even start my all-day experiment until I run another experiment to standardize my samples”, turning your 10-hour day into a 15-hour tour-de-force?

It’s not always been this way. We scientists are stereotypically meticulous, detail-oriented, and borderline obsessive about our work. We appreciate that good results take time. While this remains true, with the rise of technology, the availability of information, and the ever-increasing pressure for results, we scientists can no longer afford to labor as we once did.

‘Now’ isn’t simply a millennial mantra. Businesses have been thriving on ‘now’ for years. In the world of analysis, instruments and protocols are being geared toward simplifying and streamlining, with a focus on minimization and faster throughput without compromising the integrity of the results. While businesses may use this approach to leverage new products, the end result for the bench scientists is that they can get their work done quicker. For example, if we don’t spend several hours making buffer from scratch and pH balancing it and instead buy it in “just add water” packets, then we can get to our real experiments quicker. And if we no longer have to filter our samples several times before running them through the newly optimized flow cytometer, then we can get our results quicker. These workflow changes are already happening, and as bench scientists, this means that we can do the same amount of work in a fraction of the time.

If my dog can have a Bluetooth collar or my car can have an Internet connection, a streamlined work flow doesn’t seem too much to ask.

Many workflows require standardization, either to previous samples or to established values. For these experiments, which are in fact most analytical experiments, this is a repetitive, time consuming, and often monotonous task taking up valuable time before one can get on to the real questions. We should be able to streamline this workflow and allow scientists to get to the good stuff more quickly. In a time when my dog can have a Bluetooth collar or my car can have its own Internet connection, this doesn’t seem to be asking too much.

Personally, I spend most of my time working with fluorescence-based quantitation. Most labs have left (or are leaving) radioactivity-based assays in favor of this more eco- and user-friendly class of reagents. Indeed, it appears fluorescent reagents can be used to measure almost anything these days from DNA to heavy metals and from enzymatic activity to cell viability. Also, most half maximal effective concentration (EC50) assays and flow cytometry analyses are built on florescence. But in the age of ‘now’, why am I still preparing a 10-point standard curve for my single unknown sample every time I run an experiment? With instruments and reagents both evolving, why can’t the workflow?

When the Qubit Fluorometer was introduced a few years ago it changed the landscape of fluorescence-based detection. Its programs are equipped with a pre-optimized standard curve allowing the tablet-sized benchtop instrument to report on the concentration of your analyte with a mere five to 15 minutes worth of prep-time. The user only has to prepare their unknowns and transfer the pre-made standards. Currently, the instrument primarily works for DNA, RNA and protein quantification. There are also online resources to enable the user to quantify cholesterol and glucose. Using the customizable MyQubit interface, I have helped to expand this from the molecular biology realm to peroxide, sucrose, galactose, glutamic acid, and green fluorescent protein (GFP). While these assays aren’t as streamlined as those currently existing (yet), any user can build a new detection application and expand on this list. This is fluorescence-based quantitation in the age of ‘now’.

As an R&D scientist working in cell biology, I have an opportunity to help streamline the analytical experience for others. There are thousands of fluorescent reagents out there capable of detecting thousands of analytes. We are working to tap into this vast wealth of possibilities and help other scientists analyze their samples – any sample – with more efficiency so that they can get on with their real experiments quicker and with confidence. Good results will always take time, but in the age of ‘now’, I don’t think increased efficiency is asking too much. So... what do you want ‘now’?

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About the Author
Andrew Dix
Andrew Dix

I love problem solving and finding new ways to explore applications, science has just always been my natural avenue of pursuit. I cultivated a multidisciplinary background with an eye towards applications. After completing my PhD at UC San Diego in 2011, I went on to a post-doc at the US NIH National Institutes of Health before joining Thermo Fisher Scientific in the summer of 2014. I’ve always enjoyed the power and utility of fluorescence, now I’m working for a company whose reagents are the industrial standard for fluorescence-based science. It feels like a natural fit.The parent company soon learned of his immense skills and transferred him to Connecticut, USA, in 1987, where he eventually ended up specializing in the field of ICP-MS. Along the way he has become a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry (FRSC) and also a Chartered Chemistry (CChem). He is accredited with over 70 publications on analytical chemistry and 3 textbooks on ICP-MS. For the past 13 years he has been principle of his own consulting company, based in Gaithersburg, MD.

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