Montag, 26. September 2016

Lab Automation & Robotics, 8-9 November 2016, Berlin, Germany

Following last year’s successful event in Hannover, we move to Berlin for 2016.  SELECTBIO’s 6th annual Lab Automation & Robotics is an industry forum where lab professionals and engineers can share best practice and innovations in this fast moving field.


Agenda Topics:

  • Applications of Automation and Robotics in:
    • Analytical Laboratories

    • Biobanking & Biorepositories

    • Genomics Research

  • Case Studies

  • Control Software and Standards

  • Novel Hardware and Components

You can present your research on a poster while attending the meeting. Poster submission deadline:14 October 2016.

Visit the website for up-to-date information, including agenda, and our 3 for 2 offer on registrations!


Keynote Speakers


Malcolm Crook

Director, Peak Analysis & Automation Ltd


Niklaus Graber

President , SiLA

Lab Automation & Robotics, 8-9 November 2016, Berlin, Germany

Mittwoch, 21. September 2016

This startup is selling $1 million plates of made-to-order, custom-built DNA to companies like Microsoft

In San Francisco’s Mission Bay neighborhood, a 20-minute streetcar ride away from Google’s city offices, lies hidden a DNA factory.

That’s not an embellishment: Twist Bioscience, a venture-funded startup with investors including Russian billionaire Yuri Milner and Dr. Boris Nikolic, science advisor to Bill Gates, is writing millions of dollars worth of made-to-order synthesized DNA to silicon slabs, just a few inches in surface area.

The custom DNA market has been around for decades. But now, it’s poised to explode, as drugmakers and biology labs across the world turn to bespoke DNA samples to explore gene therapy and create new vaccines.

Now, there’s even more demand for custom DNA than ever before, as companies like Microsoft start to explore the possibilities of using DNA as a kind of super-intense hard drive to store lots of data even in the event of global apocalypse. In fact, Microsoft bought 10,000 strands of custom DNA from Twist earlier in 2016.

twist foundersTwist Bioscience founders, left to right: Emily Leproust, Bill Banyai, Bill Peck

Twist CEO Emily Leproust, PhD, is very careful to say that while Twist didn’t invent the process of writing custom DNA, they’re applying a Silicon Valley mindset to making the process cheaper, easier, and more flexible than ever before.

“We are an engineering company, not a chemistry company,” saysLeproust.

(Oh, and in case you’re concerned, the DNA printed by Twist isn’t really “alive” by any measure. It’s just immensely tiny protein molecules.)

DNA machine

The key to the whole affair lies in a machine that’s so proprietary and important to Twist, I wasn’t allowed to take pictures and the company doesn’t publish any on the web.

Laboratories have been using machines synthesizing custom DNA since the early 1970’s. But the process has historically been time-consuming, slow, and prone to errors: It’s hard for say, Microsoft, to try a new experiment when you need to wait “weeks and weeks and maybe even months” for your custom DNA to arrive, Leproust says.

Twist’s top-secret solution automates much of the process with a machine that looks a little like the the inkjet printer you may have at your office. Little “ink” tanks hold the raw DNA bases that they can put into sequence, per the customers’ order.

twist macro06 cZoomed into Twist Bioscience’s 10,000-well silicon plate. Each well has a 600 um diameter dimension.Zoomed into Twist Bioscience’s 10,000-well silicon plate. Each well has a 600 um diameter dimension.

As the nozzle passes over a wafer of silicon, the same heat-tolerant mineral used for computer processors, it deposits 10,000 “blisters” of DNA bases every 21 minutes or so. Once the DNA is written to the wafer, it goes upstairs to a different laboratory for final processing and preservation, turning those “blisters” into deeper and more resilient “wells,” so it can be shipped out.

It’s like Kinko’s, but each print costs $1 million and might go to better mankind. With each wafer so valuable to the company, accuracy becomes key: You don’t want to put “the million dollars at risk,” as Leproust says.

Before each pass of the machine, a camera on the printer’s nozzle actually lines up with little crosshair targets on the silicon. When you’re dealing with microscopic bits of DNA, even getting it just a little bit off-kilter can result in the whole wafer having to be tossed out.

Then, after final processing, it’s taken off the silicon wafer and shipped out to customers in vials.

The business case

Okay, so each DNA-laden wafer sells for $1 million. But who’s buying?

Lots of biology labs have need for custom DNA, for everything from testing new vaccines to using gene therapy to develop new drugs.

But since custom DNA synthesis has historically been so slow and so pricey, labs have been forced by budgetary restrictions to go to other, cheaper alternatives, including cloning, where you give up the ability to custom-design your sample by making a literal genetic copy of your existing samples.

dogclonesThese puppies were cloned from each other.Getty Images

“They have more ideas than they had money,” Leproust says.

While Twist is charging customers a lot, it’s still as much as one-third the price as custom DNA has cost historically, Leproust says. And Twist’s turnaround time for delivering the DNA is days, not weeks. Customers can do science, tweak their parameters, and have a new sample to continue research all within a week.

Right place, right time

It’s a case of being in the right place at the right time, too. The science of genetic research is progressing nicely, making for a nice and growing market for Twist’s products. But the tech giants, notably Microsoft, are starting to experiment with using DNA for computer storage.

Big businesses, banks, and hospitals all have a habit of storing important archival data on old-fashioned magnetic tape storage, basically big cassette tapes. But those tapes tend to wear out after 30 years, meaning decades of data can be lost.

loading 20machineA Twist scientist prepares to load the silicon plate into the custom DNA writing machine.Twist Bioscience

DNA, though, has a ton of potential. Unlike magnetic tape, DNA can stay totally intact and readable for as long as 10,000 years, in the right situation. Once the science gets far enough, DNA can store a lot of data, too: You can fit “the whole internet in a shoebox” one day, Leproust says.

Ultimately Microsoft Research estimates that one cubic millimeter of DNA can eventually store one exabyte, or one billion gigabytes of data. But the science is handicapped by the fact that it’s tough to actually store that much data.

And while technology trends may come and go, there’s going to be a need and capability to “read” human DNA for as long as there are humans, meaning it’s way more reliable.

In all cases, the market for custom genes is around $1 billion and $15 billion for DNA storage, Leproust says, and both markets are only growing as the world wakes up to its potential. And if everybody is going to want DNA, Leproust sees Twist as playing an important role in getting it to them.

“I want to be the one to make the DNA,” Leproust says.

This startup is selling $1 million plates of made-to-order, custom-built DNA to companies like Microsoft

Mittwoch, 14. September 2016

The revolutionary Lateral Flow Device Assembly

The revolutionary Lateral Flow Device Assembly solution combines intelligent automation and modularity on a desktop scale. It provides manufacturers flexible rapid test production capacity within a desktop footprint.

The solution is easily adaptable and can assemble different rapid tests with minimal product specific adjustments. Machine vision guidance and quality control throughout the entire system ensure a consistent high quality assembled device. The LFDA solution is built on Ginolis’s modular Xanthia robotic platform. The modular design provides speed, accuracy and precision, as well as flexibility for the future.

The Lateral Flow Test production line includes a bulk feeder, rotating disc and Scara robots for the infeed of cassettes or housings, an intelligent conveyor for material transfer, vision guided strip cutting and placement, electrically functioning press unit and a final comprehensive quality control check.

For more information about Ginolis’ Lateral Flow Device Assembly solutions visit… or contact

Modules and Applications: bulk feeders, intelligent conveyor, Scara robots, strip infeed with single card, car magazine or reel modules, press unit with force and height parameters, integrated machine vision quality control and reject outfeed

The revolutionary Lateral Flow Device Assembly

Mittwoch, 7. September 2016

New low-cost opportunities for science

Competition for funding in science is stiff and tends to get stiffer as the number of PhD graduates explodes, together with reduction in government research funding when crises strike, for example. While crowdfunding is a way to overcome this problem, even this alternative is likely to become very competitive. Scientists need to find low-cost alternatives in order to continue making good science. Fortunately, prospects have never been better in this field. Here I examine two new technologies that can help scientists to conduct their research at much lower cost than inside the traditional pathway. They are open-source hardware and scripting.

Open-source hardware

Open-source hardware consists in machines that have their blueprints freely available. Therefore, they can be reproduced by anyone with the means to build them. Nowadays, this has been more accessible than ever. Microcontrollers, like Arduino and Raspberry pi, (which are themselves open-source, by the way) allow people with elementary knowledge on electronics to build devices. At the same time, 3D printers allow low-cost fabrication of customized parts. Joining microcontrollers and customized 3D-printed parts, production costs can be really low. As a consequence, there is a plethora of devices which have their blueprints openly available on the internet, and that can be built at a very low cost. Many of such devices are specifically designed for use in the laboratory, like syringe pumps and spectrophotometers. Others not necessarily, like robotic arms. In any case, they can all be used in laboratory contexts.

The main advantage of using open-source hardware compared to commercial instruments is the cost: open-source hardware can cost less than 10% of similar commercial instruments while performing exactly the same task. Thus, for some cases even crowd funding may not be necessary: a few hundreds of dollars can be enough to fund a research project. It must be understood that the lower cost of open-source devices does not mean that their quality is inferior to their commercial counterparts. Especially in science, devices are vastly overpriced. This is not necessarily greed: the market scale in science is small when compared to that of the general public, and thus manufacturers need to charge high prices or their business collapses. This means that a device with the same technology of a common home printer, like many autosamplers, for example, can cost a hundred times or more than the printer. What happens many times is that some commercial devices can only be used together with others from the same manufacturer by design. In such case, scientists are hostage of the situation and need to purchase the expensive accessory even knowing that more affordable alternatives exist, like those based on open-source hardware. This brings us to the second technology that helps scientists to save money in the laboratory: scripting.


Scripting is a kind of programming. Without delving into technical details, scripting can be seen as an easy variety of programming, easy enough to be promptly accessible to people without time to devote to learn complex subjects, which is the case of most laboratory technicians or scientists. The main way by which scripting can help scientists save money in the laboratory is by enabling compatibility between devices from different manufactures, regardless of their originally designed purpose. Scripting allows that because it acts at the software, and not hardware, level. From a very simplistic angle, scripting is a kind of sophisticated scheduling: the tasks performed by a given instrument can be synchronized with those performed by another, provided that both are being controlled by a single computer (or group of connected computers). Scripting power resides in its simplicity: with scripting, it is possible to control mouse clicks and keyboard inputs. Therefore, scripting effectively substitute a person controlling the computer, and repeat her actions over and over.

The problem of lack of compatibility between scientific instruments is an old one. The response of the industry has been the proposal of standardization of scientific instruments, but this has never come true. The main reason for the failure of standardization is that, differently from scripting, it acts mostly at the hardware level by modifying the instruments themselves. Beyond being a complex task, which involves professionals from diverse backgrounds, standardization costs money both for manufacturers and for users. In contrast, scripting is entirely free (AutoIt, for example, is a free scripting language that allows control of mouse clicks and keyboard shortcuts) and easily accessible. In addition to that, standardization necessarily creates a “club”, where insiders have the control of who can enter or not. This is a grave obstacle that hampers the adoption of the amazing devices developed in the explosion of creativity enabled by recent developments in open-source hardware, for example.

Democratization of science

These are exciting times for scientists. Crowd funding enables anyone with a good idea to make it real. Open-source hardware lowers the cost of devices by more than 90% of what they cost just a few years ago. Scripting makes these devices work together, and also together with commercial devices. More than ever, stunning technological advances can be a part of scientific discovery even in the most modest laboratories. These are times of true democratization of science.

New low-cost opportunities for science