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Techniques & Tools Gas Chromatography, Liquid Chromatography

Look What You Missed… With Jared L Anderson

How has COVID-19 affected your work?

The lockdowns have certainly been a challenge, and we will likely deal with the repercussions for years to come. My research group had just returned from Pittcon 2020 in Chicago when Iowa State University pivoted to online courses and restrictions were placed on how many researchers could work in the lab at any given time. We were fortunate to have administrators who worked closely with faculty, students, and staff to provide the necessary guidance to keep everyone safe. For the most part, my students continued working safely in the lab under occupancy restrictions, which allowed them to make progress on their research projects. 

Some of the biggest setbacks were not being able to get timely access to certain chemicals/reagents, as well as some instrumentation needed for materials characterization. Fortunately, most of these limitations were not long-lived. COVID-19 restrictions also made it more challenging for senior graduate students to take part in summer industrial internships and for undergraduate students to get hands-on experience in the laboratory. 

Is there a silver lining? 

Despite all of these challenges, there were certainly some positive things to come out of the pandemic fallout. For example, universities were forced to quickly move instruction online, which required greater use of virtual software. Now, running group meetings online is certainly not the same as an in-person meeting, but I believe it has helped students improve their communication skills as it is more challenging to explain results in a virtual format as opposed to grabbing a marker and jotting something on the board during an in-person meeting. There’s no doubt the pandemic has taught us all about the need to stay connected!

In my experience, the pandemic also provided a cohort of my students the ability to focus more on learning and developing computer programming skills to expand 3D printing capabilities towards separation science. We are developing new devices and platforms that enable us to carry out separations in solvent microdroplets. We are learning more about the tremendous opportunities offered by commercial desktop 3D printers in generating sample preparation and separation devices. As many of our sample preparation devices become miniaturized to improve preconcentration factors or eliminate excessive solvent waste, suitable containers for these volumes are often not available. The ability to “print on demand” is a huge advantage of 3D printing and many of the companies that we work with in this arena are constantly developing new filament or resin materials to meet various requirements. Applications of 3D printing in liquid chromatographic separations have been on-going for a number of years by a handful of groups and I look forward to this field rapidly expanding. 

From a scientific perspective, what have we missed? 

At the upcoming HPLC 2022, I will discuss some of my group’s ongoing work in developing rapid oligonucleotide extraction methods that are able to achieve single-nucleotide differentiation. This work has been pushed forward by the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to develop rapid nucleic acid isolation methods that are compatible with downstream amplification methods, such as qPCR. We have recently introduced a new class of liquid magnetic supports that do not suffer from aggregation, clogging of devices, and low capture efficiencies. Coupled to these supports are probes featuring ion tags that are capable of distinguishing between complementary DNA and single-nucleotide mismatches. HPLC has enabled us to precisely measure the amount of the probe captured by the liquid support so that we can better devise probes featuring higher loading capacity. I will also discuss some of my group’s most recent results on using deep eutectic solvents as extraction solvents that are compatible with HPLC. 

What does the future hold?

The COVID-19 pandemic has opened up a lot of unique research avenues for my group, particularly in developing high-throughput nucleic acid diagnostics that can be combined with smartphone technology for point-of-care diagnostics. The ability to use 3D printing to tailor and fabricate millifluidic devices “on demand” is also an exciting area that we are continuing to work on. In all of these approaches, HPLC plays an integral role in analysis!

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About the Author
Lauren Robertson

By the time I finished my degree in Microbiology I had come to one conclusion – I did not want to work in a lab. Instead, I decided to move to the south of Spain to teach English. After two brilliant years, I realized that I missed science, and what I really enjoyed was communicating scientific ideas – whether that be to four-year-olds or mature professionals. On returning to England I landed a role in science writing and found it combined my passions perfectly. Now at Texere, I get to hone these skills every day by writing about the latest research in an exciting, creative way.

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