Microscopic DNA analyses on a gigantic scale

July 18th, 2018

A laboratory machine encased in glass on a table with a computer hard drive connected underneath and computr screen and keyboard for inputs and control.

A machine able to analyse DNA contained within water samples.

The new acoustic liquid handler

Andreas Zwick, molecular scientist and project leader of ‘Mobilising collections through genomics’ last year installed a $500 000 robotic liquid handler for conducting DNA analyses on historical specimens preserved in Australia’s national biological collections.

Biological collections are vast biodiversity reference libraries, used for hundreds of years to help identify, understand and manage biodiversity. Andreas’ team is seeking to add value to these collections by generating DNA reference sequences from specimens. DNA sequences hold clues to the identity, condition and function of organisms, and mobilising the DNA hidden within specimens will enable us to tackle big future science questions in evolution, ecology, biosecurity and conservation.

With 15 million specimens, this is a big and potentially expensive job! The solution is to miniaturise laboratory analyses. The new acoustic liquid handler uses sound waves to bounce tiny amounts of liquid, such as the minute amounts of DNA found in the legs of insects stored at the Australian National Insect Collection. It can build DNA libraries from up to 1500 specimens a day compared to the previous method where researchers could only get through 25-50 specimens a day.

By speeding up the identification and classification of insects, researchers can spend more time on figuring out how species are evolving and which ones may be beneficial or potentially become pests.

For more information, read The Canberra Times article re-posted on CSIROscope.