Frozen assets

Frozen assets

December 7, 2010

December 6, 2010

A new, state-of-the-art freezer system has now been installed in the Virginia G. Piper Center for Personalized Medicine, at the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University. The Center, under the Direction of Joshua LaBaer, is home to DNASU, a vast library of some 127,000 plasmids—circular pieces of DNA containing individual genes, used for biological and biomedical research. At the Piper Center, these samples, which represent more than 750 distinct organisms, provide the raw material for experiments concerning the functional role of genes and proteins in biology and disease. This frozen vault of genetic information is the only one of its kind in the Southwestern United States.

In addition to studying the detailed structure and function of proteins, the LaBaer group is using plasmid technology to identify protein biomarkers—early warning indicators of illness, which may be detected in blood samples. Their work is aimed at providing faster, more accurate detection of deadly diseases, including cancers of the breast, ovaries, prostate and lung. Plasmid research also enables the investigation of novel antibodies for Type I diabetes through blood screening and the development of innovative vaccines for diseases like pseudomonas and cholera, through identification of effective antibodies.

The LaBaer lab has assembled its storehouse of plasmids from several sources. Many are produced on-site at the Biodesign Institute. Others were acquired as part of the Protein Structure Initiative (PSI) —a nationally funded structural genomics effort, with the long-term ambition of making the three-dimensional atomic-level structures of most proteins easily accessible, based on knowledge of their corresponding DNA sequences. Additional plasmids for the BioStore have been donated from other researchers in the field. In addition to supplying plasmids for the Piper Center’s disease research, the repository acts as a sort of global clearinghouse for genetic material. To date, LaBaer’s group has distributed over 200,000 plasmid clones to over 550 laboratories in 35 countries.

DNA plasmids are extracted from a culture medium and stored in a glycerol solution.  They must then be properly maintained at a chilly -80 degrees Celsius. The newly acquired Nexus Universal BioStore freezer, weighing in at 13,073 pounds when fully loaded with samples, not only stores the plasmids at the required temperature, but provides efficient access to plasmids, thanks to a robotic selection apparatus known as the Automated Storage/Retrieval System. Each plasmid sits in an individually bar-coded sample tube, which the robot can rapidly select, in order to prepare specific material for experiment. The new freezer has a capacity of 855,000 sample tubes. This leading edge automated system saves time while safeguarding samples from cross-contamination and human error, allowing for more rapid distribution of plasmid material and accelerating the pace of scientific discovery.

Researchers worldwide can access a database of plasmids through the DNASU website and order material for their given projects. The site also includes fully searchable annotations, associated publications and links to other biological databases for cross-referencing. Back at the Piper Center, the automated storage and retrieval system tracks each retrieval and storage event in a database with a log file, providing an electronic record of each transaction and reducing the error rate in sample transactions to near zero. 

The library, which is growing in size by about 1000 new plasmids per month, provides an invaluable resource in the rapidly developing field of proteomics. As Dr. LaBaer notes:

“We are very excited by this automated plasmid clone freezer system, which the lab likes to refer to as the ‘clonomat.’  It will dramatically simplify the retrieval of genes in any order we want and help us to maintain the integrity of our growing collection.  Most importantly, it helps us to share these resources with the community, which is the essence of modern science.”

Acquisition of the Nexus Universal BioStore freezer was made possible in part through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), signed into law by President Obama, on February 17th, 2009.  The $21.5 billion stimulus package contains extensive funding for science, engineering research and infrastructure, as well as for education, social sciences and the arts.

 Written by: Richard Harth                                                                                                      Science Writer: The Biodesign Institute                                                        




Written by: Joe Caspermeyer