The Low-Cost, Semi-Automated Shifter Microscope Stage Transforms Speed and Robustness of Manual Protein Crystal Harvesting
Wright ND., Collins P., Talon R., Nelson E., Koekemoer L., Ye M., Nowak R., Newman J., Ng JT., Mitrovich N., Wiggers H., von Delft F.
AbstractDespite the tremendous success of x-ray cryocrystallography over recent decades, the transfer of crystals from the drops where they grow to diffractometer sample mounts, remains a manual process in almost all laboratories. Here we describe the Shifter, a semi-automated microscope stage that offers an accessible and scalable approach to crystal mounting that exploits on the strengths of both humans and machines. The Shifter control software manoeuvres sample drops beneath a hole in a clear protective cover, for human mounting under a microscope. By allowing complete removal of film seals the tedium of cutting or removing the seal is eliminated. The control software also automatically captures experimental annotations for uploading to the user’s data repository, removing the overhead of manual documentation. The Shifter facilitates mounting rates of 100-240 crystals per hour, in a more controlled process than manual mounting, which greatly extends the lifetime of drops and thus allows for a dramatic increase in the number of crystals retrievable from any given drop, without loss of X-ray diffraction quality. In 2015 the first in a series of three Shifter devices was deployed as part of the XChem fragment screening facility at Diamond Light Source (DLS), where they have since facilitated the mounting of over 100,000 crystals. The Shifter was engineered to be simple, allowing for a low-cost device to be commercialised and thus potentially transformative as many research initiatives as possible.SynopsisA motorised X/Y microscope stage is presented that combines human fine motor control with machine automation and automated experiment documentation, to transform productivity in protein crystal harvesting.