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Gregory Khitrov, Director of Rockefeller University Gene Array Facility

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AT A GLANCE Master''s in biology from New York University, 2000 Enjoys bicycling to work from his home in the Bronx, and swimming. Qualified for the 1996 US Olympic Swim Team. Opened Rockefeller University’s GeneArray facility in June 2000.

 

Q How did you set up the Gene Array facility at Rockefeller?

AWhen the university hired me as the director, it was an empty space. They had one arrayer built by a postdoc Curtis Altmann, a home-built Pat Brown model. I used food-coloring dye to calibrate the arrayer, because it’s so inexpensive and it allows you to view the print pattern in the scanner. The article was published in Biotechniques (Biotechniques 30: 748 April 2001). But it’s a slow machine, and it’s not very accurate. So we decided to go commercial.

QWhat kind of arrayer did you buy?

AWe purchased a machine from BioRobotics. It’s a walk away system. There are a few features that made me decide to go with them. It has a lid remover, and a refrigeration system so that the samples won’t evaporate when they’re sitting in the biobank. The robot can handle 108 slides and 24 plates, and has a built-in humidity controller.

QHave you had any problems with the machine?

AYes we’ve had a few. The lid was dropped on a few occasions. There was some plate mishandling. The last problem was a misprint. But the company’s response was quick and efficient. I called them on Friday at the UK office, where their headquarters are located. Two technicians from the UK arrived on Monday morning. They literally slept at the facility for a week. They made sure the robot works. I’ve been incredibly happy with BioRobotics’ customer service. I’m just glad we chose BioRobotics among other companies that offered similar products.

QWhat companies?

AWe bought GeneMachines RevPrep miniprep robot along with their high-throughput incubator. It was not what we had expected. Later they took the RevPrep off the market. Theoretically the incubator was a good machine. It allowed users to connect pure oxygen to the incubator and allow a more efficient bacterial cell growth. Unfortunately it was breaking every time. It often stopped shaking and it used to get out of balance. I felt like the company had only one technical representative for the East and West coast. I was not impressed with their customer service. I am sure the arrayer is good, but I didn’t trust the service on it. Then I chose Affymetrix. It did not work out either.

QReally? Why didn’t you like Affymetrix?

AAffymetrix is very good on their GeneChip line. However, I had a little mishap with their pin and ring glass slide printer. They showed us the prototype of the new 427 arrayer in September 2000. The product manager said ëthe machine is going to be available for us at the end of December.’ I sent the PO out for the full price of a new robot, the 427. Then they said that they would ship the robot to us in the end of February. But when I called them at the beginning of February they said ‘the 427 is not a new arrayer any more. We are just going to redesign the head. The machine that you want is the 437.’ We had to pull away from that deal.

Q What’s your wish list for microarray technology?

AMy wish list would be to have Packard’s Piezoelectric arrayer with more print pins then they currently have, to have a huge server that can hold all the information for the users, and to have a nice database package like the one from Rosetta Inpharmatics.

Also I want to buy ready-to-print cDNA libraries. Because that’s what sets you back. You do the miniprep, and the robot decides to malfunction in the middle of it. After that you have to do the PCR. Then you have to run the gels. After you run the gels and you are happy with them, you have to do a PCR cleanup. It’s long and laborious and in the long run, its more expensive. So if I could just buy the ready-to-print libraries, print them and make people at Rockefeller University happy, that would be the ideal choice.

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