Gary Magnant and Chris Boles are all about listening to what the customer wants. As CEO and CSO, respectively, of Sage Science, Magnant and Boles are just starting to get the word out about their automated gel electrophoresis instrument. But the tool started out differently — it was "initially strictly an analytical device, [but] not preparative in nature," Magnant says. As they talked about the concept with the research community, it became clear that what was most interesting to potential customers was "if we could not only scan the bands but also extract them," he adds.
And that's how Pippin Prep was born. The instrument performs automatic fractionation of up to eight DNA samples at once based on the size range selected by the user. Each fractionated sample is eluted into a chamber with buffer, where the product can then be accessed by liquid handling systems or by micropipettes. "We think we did it in a very elegant fashion," Magnant says. "It's all solid state — no robotics."
Magnant and Boles say they've been in touch with potential users at the major genome centers and determined early on that next-gen sequencing would be the first target market for the instrument. At this point, the tool has been through the proof-of-principle and prototype stages, and the Sage team is looking into collaborations with scientists who can help put the instrument through its paces. Boles says that potential customers may hail from facilities spanning large genome centers to small labs with just one or two sequencers.
Early response has been positive, says Magnant: "From what we hear from people in the field, so far it's more accurate than [what] they can do by hand and by eye." Boles notes that having uniform size distribution is very important to sequencing users, and that right now the instrument is meeting demand for size variation to be less than 10 percent. With further development, he says, "we think we'll be able to exceed that criteria by quite a bit."
Sage was originally started in 2005 by Magnant, MJ Research co-founder Mike Finney, and Todd Barbera. The company currently has four employees, and Magnant says he expects that to grow to 10 or 12 by the end of this year.