(307) 734-0211 State-of-the-art robotics solutions, Jackson, WY
The demonstration unit of the Universal Micromanipulation Robot (UMR) capable of semi-autonomous protein crystal harvesting has been tested and evaluated by independent users. We report the status and capabilities of the present unit scheduled for deployment in a high-throughput protein crystallization center. We discuss operational aspects as well as novel features such as micro- crystal handling and drip-cryoprotection, and extrapolate towards the design of a fully autonomous, integrated system capable of reliable crystal harvesting. The positive to enthusiastic feedback from the participants in the evaluation workshops indicates that genuine demand exists and the effort and resources to develop autonomous protein crystal harvesting robotics are justified.
High-throughput crystallography has reached a level of automation where complete computer-assisted robotic crystallization pipelines are capable of cocktail preparation, crystallization plate setup, and inspection and interpreta- tion of results. While mounting of crystal pins, data collection and structure solution are highly automated, crystal harvesting and cryocooling remain formidable challenges towards full automation. To address the final frontier in achieving fully automated high-throughput crystallography, the prototype of an anthropomorphic six-axis universal micromanipulation robot (UMR) has been designed and tested; this UMR is capable of operator-assisted harvesting and cryoquenching of protein crystals as small as 10 mm from a variety of 96-well plates. The UMR is equipped with a versatile tool exchanger providing full operational flexibility. Trypsin crystals harvested and cryoquenched using the UMR have yielded a 1.5 A ̊ structure demonstrating the feasibility of robotic protein crystal harvesting.
14 March 2007
One of the critical steps in high throughput crystallography that so far has evaded automation is the actual harvesting of the delicate crystals from the mother liquor in which they are growing. The late-stage operation of harvesting is presently a most risky and loss-intensive procedure, compounded by its tight integration with the critical steps of cryo-protection and cryo-quenching. Recent advances in micromanipulation robotics and micro-fabrication have made it possible to seriously consider automation of protein crystal harvesting. Based on the experience gained during the development of an operator-assisted (and now operator-assisting) universal micromanipulation robot (UMR) prototype, we discuss the challenges ahead for the design of a fully autonomous, integrated system capable of the reliable harvesting of protein microcrystals. Experience from participation in NIH structural genomics projects and feedback from bottleneck workshops indicates that genuine demand exists in the high throughput community as well as in pharmaceutical production pipelines, justifying the effort and resources to develop autonomous harvesting robotics.