featuring the Echo acoustic technology
TITLES and AUTHORS
Mass spectrometry (MS) has many advantages as a quantitative detection technology for applications within drug discovery. However, current methods of liquid sample introduction to a detector are slow and limit the use of mass spectrometry for kinetic and high-throughput applications. We present the development of an acoustic mist ionization (AMI) interface capable of contactless nanoliter-scale “infusion” of up to three individual samples per second into the mass detector. Installing simple plate handling automation allowed us to reach a throughput of 100 000 samples per day on a single mass spectrometer. We applied AMI-MS to identify inhibitors of a human histone deacetylase from AstraZeneca’s collection of 2 million small molecules and measured their half-maximal inhibitory concentration. The speed, sensitivity, simplicity, robustness, and consumption of nanoliter volumes of sample suggest that this technology will have a major impact across many areas of basic and applied research.
Sarcomas are aggressive tumours originating from connective tissues with an incidence of 1% of all adult cancers. They comprise approximately 130 distinct histological subtypes according to the World Health Organization (WHO) classification of bone and soft tissue tumours.1 Surgery is the cornerstone for the treatment of sarcoma. In spite the fact that some sarcoma subtypes such as osteosarcomas and Ewing sarcomas are sensitive to cytostatic drugs, conventional chemotherapy has limited benefit for most sarcoma subtypes and is usually recommended for advanced disease. Heterogeneity and low incidence have been a great challenge for sarcoma diagnosis, treatment, drug development and clinical trials.
Design and large-scale synthesis of DNA has been applied to the functional study of viral and microbial genomes. New and expanded technology development is required to unlock the transformative potential of such bottom-up approaches to the study of larger mammalian genomes. Two major challenges include assembling and delivering long DNA sequences. Here we describe a pipeline for de novo DNA assembly and delivery that enables functional evaluation of mammalian genes on the length scale of 100 kb. The DNA assembly step is supported by an integrated robotic workcell. We assembled the 101 kb human HPRT1 gene in yeast, delivered it to mouse embryonic stem cells, and showed expression of the human protein from its full-length gene. This pipeline provides a framework for producing systematic, designer variants of any mammalian gene locus for functional evaluation in cells.
Next-generation sequencing technologies have enabled many advances across biology, with microbial ecology benefiting primarily through expanded sample sizes. Although the cost of running sequencing instruments has decreased substantially over time, the price of library preparation methods has largely remained unchanged. In this study, we developed a low-cost miniaturized (5-µl volume) high-throughput (384-sample) amplicon library preparation method with the Echo 550 acoustic liquid handler. Our method reduces costs of library preparation to $1.42 per sample, a 58% reduction compared to existing automated methods and a 21-fold reduction from commercial kits, without compromising sequencing success or distorting the microbial community composition analysis. We further validated the optimized method by sampling five body sites from 46 Pacific chub mackerel fish caught across 16 sampling events over seven months from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography pier in La Jolla, CA. Fish microbiome samples were processed with the miniaturized 5-µl reaction volume with 0.2 µl of genomic DNA (gDNA) and the standard 25-µl reaction volume with 1 µl of gDNA. Between the two methods, alpha diversity was highly correlated (R2 > 0.95), while distances of technical replicates were much lower than within-body-site variation (P < 0.0001), further validating the method. The cost savings of implementing the miniaturized library preparation (going from triplicate 25-µl reactions to triplicate 5-µl reactions) are large enough to cover a MiSeq sequencing run for 768 samples while preserving accurate microbiome measurements.
Preparation of high-quality sequencing libraries is a costly and time-consuming component of metagenomic next generation sequencing (mNGS). While the overall cost of sequencing has dropped significantly over recent years, the reagents needed to prepare sequencing samples are likely to become the dominant expense in the process. Furthermore, libraries prepared by hand are subject to human variability and needless waste due to limitations of manual pipetting volumes. Reduction of reaction volumes, combined with sub-microliter automated dispensing of reagents without consumable pipette tips, has the potential to provide significant advantages. Here, we describe the integration of several instruments, including the Labcyte Echo 525 acoustic liquid handler and the iSeq and NovaSeq Illumina sequencing platforms, to miniaturize and automate mNGS library preparation, significantly reducing the cost and the time required to prepare samples. Through the use of External RNA Controls Consortium (ERCC) spike-in RNAs, we demonstrated the fidelity of the miniaturized preparation to be equivalent to full volume reactions. Furthermore, detection of viral and microbial species from cell culture and patient samples was also maintained in the miniaturized libraries. For 384-well mNGS library preparations, we achieved a savings of over 80% in materials and reagents alone, and reduced preparation time by 90% compared to manual approaches, without compromising quality or representation within the library.
Preparation of high-quality sequencing libraries is a costly and time-consuming component of metagenomic next-generation sequencing (mNGS). While the overall cost of sequencing has dropped significantly over recent years, the reagents needed to prepare sequencing samples are likely to become the dominant expense in the process. Furthermore, libraries prepared by hand are subject to human variability and needless waste due to limitations of manual pipetting volumes. Reduction of reaction volumes, combined with sub-microliter automated dispensing of reagents without consumable pipette tips, has the potential to provide significant advantages. Here, we describe the integration of several instruments, including the Labcyte Echo 525 acoustic liquid handler and the iSeq and NovaSeq Illumina sequencing platforms, to miniaturize and automate mNGS library preparation, significantly reducing the cost and the time required to prepare samples. Through the use of External RNA Controls Consortium (ERCC) spike-in RNAs, we demonstrated the fidelity of the miniaturized preparation to be equivalent to full volume reactions. Furthermore, detection of viral and microbial species from cell culture and patient samples was also maintained in the miniaturized libraries. For 384-well mNGS library preparations, we achieved a savings of over 80% in materials and reagents alone, and reduced preparation time by 90% compared to manual approaches, without compromising quality or representation within the library.
Biofoundries have enabled the ability to automate the construction of genetic constructs using computer-aided design. In this study, we have developed the methodology required to abstract and automate the construction of yeast-compatible designs. We demonstrate the use of our in-house software tool, AMOS, to coordinate with design software, JMP, and robotic liquid handling platforms to successfully manage the construction of a library of 88 yeast expression plasmids. In this proof-of-principle study, we used three fluorescent genes as proxy for three enzyme coding sequences. Our platform has been designed to quickly iterate around a design cycle of four protein coding sequences per plasmid, with larger numbers possible with multiplexed genome integrations in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. This work highlights how developing scalable new biotechnology applications requires a close integration between software development, liquid handling robotics, and protocol development.
Native cell-free transcription–translation systems offer a rapid route to characterize the regulatory elements (promoters, transcription factors) for gene expression from nonmodel microbial hosts, which can be difficult to assess through traditional in vivo approaches. One such host, Bacillus megaterium, is a giant Gram-positive bacterium with potential biotechnology applications, although many of its regulatory elements remain uncharacterized. Here, we have developed a rapid automated platform for measuring and modeling in vitro cell-free reactions and have applied this to B. megaterium to quantify a range of ribosome binding site variants and previously uncharacterized endogenous constitutive and inducible promoters. To provide quantitative models for cell-free systems, we have also applied a Bayesian approach to infer ordinary differential equation model parameters by simultaneously using time-course data from multiple experimental conditions. Using this modeling framework, we were able to infer previously unknown transcription factor binding affinities and quantify the sharing of cell-free transcription–translation resources (energy, ribosomes, RNA polymerases, nucleotides, and amino acids) using a promoter competition experiment. This allows insights into resource limiting-factors in batch cell-free synthesis mode. Our combined automated and modeling platform allows for the rapid acquisition and model-based analysis of cell-free transcription–translation data from uncharacterized microbial cell hosts, as well as resource competition within cell-free systems, which potentially can be applied to a range of cell-free synthetic biology and biotechnology applications.
Leishmaniasis is a Neglected Tropical Disease caused by the insect-vector borne protozoan parasite, Leishmania species. Infection affects millions of the world’s poorest, however vaccines are absent and drug therapy limited. Recently, public-private partnerships have developed to identify new modes of controlling leishmaniasis. Drug discovery is a significant part of these efforts and here we describe the development and utilization of a novel assay to identify antiprotozoal inhibitors of the Leishmania enzyme, inositol phosphorylceramide (IPC) synthase. IPC synthase is a membrane-bound protein with multiple transmembrane domains, meaning that a conventional in vitro assay using purified protein in solution is highly challenging. Therefore, we utilized Saccharomyces cerevisiae as a vehicle to facilitate ultra-high throughput screening of 1.8 million compounds. Antileishmanial benzazepanes were identified and shown to inhibit the enzyme at nanomolar concentrations. Further chemistry produced a benzazepane that demonstrated potent and specific inhibition of IPC synthase in the Leishmania cell.
Use of droplet digital PCR technology (ddPCR) is expanding rapidly in the diversity of applications and number of users around the world. Access to relatively simple and affordable commercial ddPCR technology has attracted wide interest in use of this technology as a molecular diagnostic tool. For ddPCR to effectively transition to a molecular diagnostic setting requires processes for method validation and verification and demonstration of reproducible instrument performance. In this study, we describe the development and characterization of a DNA reference material (NMI NA008 High GC reference material) comprising a challenging methylated GC-rich DNA template under a novel 96-well microplate format. A scalable process using high precision acoustic dispensing technology was validated to produce the DNA reference material with a certified reference value expressed in amount of DNA molecules per well. An interlaboratory study, conducted using blinded NA008 High GC reference material to assess reproducibility among seven independent laboratories demonstrated less than 4.5% reproducibility relative standard deviation. With the exclusion of one laboratory, laboratories had appropriate technical competency, fully functional instrumentation, and suitable reagents to perform accurate ddPCR based DNA quantification measurements at the time of the study. The study results confirmed that NA008 High GC reference material is fit for the purpose of being used for quality control of ddPCR systems, consumables, instrumentation, and workflow.