Enabling high-throughput biology with flexible open-source automation

Jimmy Day/MIT Media Lab

Mol Syst Biol. 2021 Mar;17(3):e9942. doi: 10.15252/msb.20209942.


Our understanding of complex living systems is limited by our capacity to perform experiments in high throughput. While robotic systems have automated many traditional hand-pipetting protocols, software limitations have precluded more advanced maneuvers required to manipulate, maintain, and monitor hundreds of experiments in parallel. Here, we present Pyhamilton, an open-source Python platform that can execute complex pipetting patterns required for custom high-throughput experiments such as the simulation of metapopulation dynamics. With an integrated plate reader, we maintain nearly 500 remotely monitored bacterial cultures in log-phase growth for days without user intervention by taking regular density measurements to adjust the robotic method in real-time. Using these capabilities, we systematically optimize bioreactor protein production by monitoring the fluorescent protein expression and growth rates of a hundred different continuous culture conditions in triplicate to comprehensively sample the carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus fitness landscape. Our results demonstrate that flexible software can empower existing hardware to enable new types and scales of experiments, empowering areas from biomanufacturing to fundamental biology.

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