DCO Sandpit Outlines International Bioreactor Needs

In August 2013, twenty industry and academic scientists from six nations gathered on the shores of Lake Annecy in France to identify specifications for instrumentation to facilitate high-pressure biological and geochemical investigations.

In late August 2013, twenty industry and academic scientists from six nations gathered on the shores of Lake Annecy at Les Pensières Conference Centre, Veyrier-du-Lac, France, to identify specifications for instrumentation to facilitate high-pressure biological and geochemical investigations. This new instrumentation will advance our understanding of the nature and extent of deep microbial life, which are decadal goals of the Deep Carbon Observatory (DCO). Bioreactors—vessels supporting biologically active environments—are essential instruments in these efforts. Existing bioreactor chambers are customized to meet the needs of individual research labs and are often incompatible, making global collaboration difficult.

The workshop was structured as a “Sandpit Workshop” with participants from a diverse range of disciplines gathered in a creative, open, and collaborative environment. Experts in deep life research, industry, and instrument design immersed themselves in intense discussion, with the ultimate goal of distributing $100,000 in instrument development funding. Workshop participants first focused on the universal need for portable sample containers that allow researchers to share and transport high-pressure samples—challenges amplified by international and airline travel regulations. Vessels exist for collecting deep-sea or deep-continental samples under pressure for in situ analysis, but they are not engineered to sustain samples at high pressure throughout the entire sequence of transportation and analyses.

Sample Transporters

Attendees addressed the workshop objectives, first identifying the optimum design for a new generation of compatible high-pressure/temperature containers for transporting pressurized samples from field sites and among laboratories. A key outcome of the workshop was the development of a set of transporter specifications and design elements that is currently being circulated for comment in the broader community of scientists interested in high-pressure biology. Feedback will be used to fine-tune sample transporter specifications. A number of vendors will be given the opportunity to bid on the engineering design and manufacture of the transporters. A portion of the DCO's instrument funding allocated to bioreactors will be used to design, build and test the prototype sample transporters that meet the requirements agreed upon by the community. 

Shared Bioreactor Facilities

Workshop participants agreed that the best but most costly way to expand the scientific frontiers of high-pressure microbiology and geochemistry in order to achieve DCO goals would be to develop shared bioreactor facilities with capabilities greater than those of any single existing lab. Bioreactor users, representatives of pressure apparatus companies, and scientists and engineers involved in international drilling programs gave presentations and shared their knowledge during workshop discussion. Specifications were developed for a prototype bioreactor capable of hosting a range of cutting-edge experiments conducted at conditions matching Earth’s most extreme biological environments. The final specifications will be given to vendors in order to determine the cost of one or two international bioreactor facilities. Workshop attendees generated a range of ideas for the collaboration and fundraising necessary to make a community bioreactor feasible.

The intimate and cooperative workshop atmosphere encouraged participants to discuss developing mechanisms for bioreactor user community growth and interaction through online sharing/discussion and live meeting opportunities. For instance, a DCO Bioreactor Working and Mentoring Group could use the DCO collaborative tools for sharing ideas and expertise, helping each other overcome advanced bioreactor instrumentation challenges, as well as providing advice to those entering the field.

To comment on sample transporter and international bioreactor facility specifications, please contact the workshop organizer, Isabelle Daniel.

Front row: Andrea Mangum, Karyn Rogers, Isabelle Daniel, Doug Bartlett

Middle row : Esta Van Heerden, Mariana Erasmus, Rachael Hazael, Tiina Lamminmaki, Herve Cardon, Philippe Gouze, Merja Itavaara

Back row: Dionysis Foustoukos, Wally Van Der Hoven, Tom Kieft, Tori Hoehler, Barry Herschy, Karsten Pedersen

 

 

Photo credits: Andrea Mangum

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