Courtesy of TTP LabTech

TTP LabTech's comPOUND and mosquito (inset) systems.

With a flash of art deco teal and some vintage engineering decisions, TTP LabTech is making 21st-century science look decidedly retro. Inspired by the pneumatic systems once used to shoot money through tubes in banks, the company's comPOUND storage and retrieval system dispatches chemical vials with a whoosh of air. Its mosquito liquid-handling system, meanwhile, looks a bit like a 35-mm film reel or perhaps a bandolier. http://www.ttplabtech.com

Before comPOUND's debut, chemical libraries lived in walk-in freezers or temperature-controlled buildings that housed robotic storage and retrieval systems. "But a number of companies asked if we could produce something smaller and modular," says Jas Sanghera, commercial director of TTP LabTech of Melbourn, UK.

The company decided that robots and conveyer belts are too bulky and unreliable at subzero storage temperatures. Instead, it designed the freezer-sized pneumatic system,...


TTP LabTech also produces an automated liquid-handling system called mosquito, which dispenses volumes ranging from 50 nl to 1.2 μl. "We again looked back in time and decided that the most fundamental method of dispens-blockage was a syringe," Sanghera says.

The mosquito's stainless steel pistons are enclosed in polyethylene barrels; a clamp raises the piston to aspirate liquid and pushes it down to dispense. The syringes, which are used only once, are mounted on a reel of plastic resembling a 35-mm projector reel, and one reel holds 36,000 tips.

Protein crystallography is one of mosquito's biggest applications, because the system can cope with solutions as viscous as honey. Yet the syringe can dispense any liquid, and even cells and chromatography beads, thanks to its relatively large orifice.

Scientists at Merck & Co. in West Point, Pa., are using two mosquito systems in dose-response drug studies. Rodney Bednar, senior research fellow, says his group needs to place low concentrations of dimethylsulfoxide directly into dry plates ahead of other assay components. "Instead of spending half a morning doing intermediate dilutions, we can use the mosquito and have all the plates done in 15 minutes," he says. He adds that disposable tips are a big advantage because they avoid carryover, though loading the reel correctly is sometimes tricky.

Research associate Scott Mosser estimates the liquid handlers save Merck about $10,000 per year on each assay requiring human or animal serum, because smaller quantities (0.1 ml vs. 0.8 ml) suffice. The systems, he says, have improved every aspect of the group's operations. "People are thrilled with what we can do now."

- Linda Sage

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