Courtesy of DakoCytomation

Conventional wisdom holds that flow cytometers are expensive, massive, high-maintenance instruments that require trained operators. They are plumbed into centralized facilities of large institutions, where investigators can pay to have their cells sorted, or perform the analyses themselves (provided they have the requisite skills) under the watchful eye of the center's personnel.

But as so often happens, the conventional wisdom is wrong. Nowadays, flow cytometers are small enough to be found on the benchtops of individual labs. While not as sophisticated as the colossal high-end sorters, these new instruments can easily hold their own for a wide range of common cytometry tasks.

Becton Dickinson (now BD Biosciences-Immunocytometry Systems of San Jose, Calif.), developed one of the first commercial flow cytometers in the early 1970s, but didn't introduce a benchtop version (the FACScan cytometers) until the mid-1980s. That release was followed closely by systems from Coulter (now Beckman...

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