Robotic microbial analysis aids drug R&D
provides an additional method in rapid mass screening to identify
new species as pharma becomes more open to using microorganisms as
living factories for producing drugs and biochemical products.
The new approach involves the classification of microorganisms. A mass spectrometer records their "fingerprint" by analysing the time of flight of proteins and protein fragments flying through the instrument's vacuum chamber.
In determining the molecular weight and electrical charge, this high-speed analysis technique depends on the availability of a database containing the typical profiles of proteins found in the maximum possible number of microorganisms.
The "Mirob" robotic system for this microbial analysis, works autonomously, extracting the samples under the guidance of a camera and image processing software, and transfer them to the mass spectrometer. An important aspect of the continuous process is material flow control.
"The camera records the label on each Petri dish and simultaneously reads its barcode," said Oliver Lange of the Fraunhofer Institute for Factory Operation and Automation IFF in Magdeburg.
"The computer links these data with the analysis result when it is output a few minutes later. In this way, we can be certain of avoiding the mix-ups that occasionally spoil a whole series of measurements," he added.
Despite the automation of many routine laboratory tasks, this type of analysis still requires a great deal of manual input.
Especially when working with pathogens that present a risk to human health, strict safety precautions have to be observed during sample preparation.