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Newcastle University is investing £280,000 with Arrayjet, the UK’s leading provider of microarray instrumentation technology, as part of its plan to establish a pioneering microarray centre for the northern half of the United Kingdom. The centre will be used by other university departments, as well as external life science and biotechnology research partners.

The funding for the new centre was secured through the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) 18ALERT fund.  This is designed to enable Universities to put in place cutting edge technology, whilst strengthening collaborations with Industry. 

The centre is the brainchild of William Willats, Professor of Molecular Agri-Diagnostics at Newcastle University, whose own research investigates how plants respond and adapt to their environment, with a particular focus on the role of cell walls – the carbohydrate-rich casing that surrounds almost all plant cells.

For this research, Professor Willats now uses a customised Arrayjet Marathon Argus printer with a built-in camera system and interchangeable printing trays.  This flexibility will allow the lab to offer printing for a wide range of substrate and sample options including their own novel polysaccharide (carbohydrate) printing projects.

As Professor Willats stated ;

“Cell walls are protective barriers that provide support and regulate growth, but they also display remarkable plasticity and are a dynamic interface between the plant and the outside world. Because plants don’t move around people sometimes assume that they are passive, but in fact they show a remarkable capacity for long term adaptation and short-term responsiveness.

“This ability is important from an evolutionary standpoint and partly explains how plants have colonised the planet so widely and exploited so many diverse habitats.

It’s also important at the individual plant level and enables plants to cope with a range of threats from pathogens and environmental stress. Understanding these complex molecular processes is fascinating and important for developing new crops with higher productivity and resilience to climate change.”

Using the Arrayjet Marathon Argus microarrayer will enable William and his colleagues to develop high-throughput carbohydrate microarrays that can rapidly print very large sets of biological samples and help decipher complex profiles of plant carbohydrates.

William continues;

“Polysaccharide molecules tend to be tricky to work with. Unlike proteins and nucleotides, they cannot easily be sequenced or synthesised, and are often very complex and chemically diverse.

One approach we use is based on extracting polysaccharides from plant materials which are then deposited as thousands of minute spots, or microarrays on slides or membranes using the high throughput Arrayjet Marathon Argus bio-printer. We then use monoclonal antibodies to decipher what particular polysaccharides are in which samples and this provides a high-resolution overview of complex polysaccharide landscapes”,

Although this advanced technology was originally developed for basic research projects, its translational potential soon become apparent and William’s group has collaborated widely with industrial partners with a view to establish Newcastle University as a ‘hub’ for microarray activity across the northern half of the United Kingdom.

Iain McWilliam, CEO, Arrayjet added;

Microarray sampling is at the core of Professor Willat’s research and his  foresight in allowing collaborative partners to use our bio-printing technology shows that establishing a Microarray centre at Newcastle University is a very positive move. I’m certain other universities, research institutes, pharma companies and the general bioscience communities across the country will warmly welcome this.”

Arrayjet is supported by investment from the Archangels business angel syndicate and Scottish Enterprise.