We were delighted to catch up with Hoxton Farms, winners of an apricot S3 as part of our Automated Pipetting Survey. Based in London, UK, Hoxton Farms is a cellular agriculture company on a mission to change the way people consume meat and other meat products.
We sat down with Ellie Robinson and Greg Austin, both Scientists at Hoxton Farms, to discuss how the apricot has impacted their life in the lab, as well as learn about the exciting work they have going on.
Ellie: Hoxton Farms is a cultivated fat company. We’re creating a deliciously fatty future by growing real animal fat without the animals as an ingredient for irresistible meat alternatives.
Greg: At the heart of what we do is a noble cause to try to reduce intensive animal agriculture for traditional meat.
Ellie: Greg and I both are working on gene expression analysis in our cell lines. We’re aiming to find out as much information as possible to determine the optimal growth conditions for these cells. We have mostly been using the apricot for setting up qPCR experiments to quantify gene expression.
Greg: I think it's intuitive and user-friendly. Once we had understood and determined the parameters we needed for our plates and protocols, such as speed, aspiration depth and column intervals, it became a handy tool for us. Now that we’re familiar with the apricot, we’ve found that it has improved the speed and accuracy of our work.
Ellie: I would agree. Setting up the protocols using the apricot software is intuitive and most of the functions are as expected.
Ellie: One big bonus of the apricot that we’ve seen is that it has allowed us to reduce variability in our results and reduce the technical error that arises from repetitive manual pipetting. Before the installation of our apricot, we were using manual multi-channel pipettes, but now we can work more productively by setting up 384-well plates quickly and with less error.
Once our protocol is programmed in and running, we can be confident that all wells are consistent and precisely contain everything we need without any risk of any random mistakes. This makes is easier for us to run larger screening experiments.
Greg: A huge benefit for us has been with regards to the reproducibility of our experiments across a large number of screens. Once we’ve developed the plate layout and established a protocol, we’re able to repeat this experiment for different samples very quickly, just changing the master mix each time. That’s the beauty of it. Once you have saved your protocols on the system, they're there ready to go and you can repeat experiments whenever you need in the future.
Greg: I was a complete novice; I'd only done manual processes before.
Ellie: Same for me. This was a new piece of equipment to use as I’d done things mostly manually before.
Ellie: It's a lot less intimidating than I thought it would be. I had always assumed that implementing lab automation would be a complex process that required a significant amount of coding. However, with the apricot software, you simply choose what you want to happen, and it happens.
There are some additional considerations to take, for example making sure to calculate the total liquid volume required for the full experiment before starting the run.
Greg: I initially saw it as a challenge. When you’re used to doing something one way, getting your head around a new system and feeling comfortable with it seemed like a big hurdle. However, now I’ve used the apricot, I wouldn’t attempt to manually pipette anything.
Ellie: I was in contact with the team before we had starting using apricot in the lab. They were helpful in providing the consumables such as 8-well strips and pipetting tips. They were also able to provide support on some aspects of the apricot that we weren’t sure about.
Greg: I can only go on my own experience, and I find that the easiest way to learn it is to just start practicing and trying it out for myself. Using this approach, I feel like I came to grips with it fairly quickly. In that regard, the apricot is an intuitive machine that's easy to set up in your workflow, so you can see the benefits from it quite quickly. I think it's a great piece of equipment and I would definitely recommend it.
Greg: The only thing I would say is slow the aspirate and dispense speeds down because it helps with preventing air bubbles. That's something we learned quite quickly.
I think it’s been a great addition to the lab.