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NMR Company Looks to Proteomics, Metabolomics With Robotics

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NMR is not usually the first technology that one associates with proteomics or high-throughput workflows, but Palo Alto, Calif.-based Varian is trying to change that. The instrument company — which has been commercializing NMR instruments since the 1950s — released this week, at the Experimental Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Conference held in Monterey, Calif., an automated NMR system that can hook up with a standard 96-well sample format. The company is looking to market the platform toward proteomics and metabolomics scientists.

“If you’re talking about screening samples, NMR has traditionally been somewhat lower throughput — it’s usually been somewhat time consuming to get samples into the machine,” Iain Green, product manager for Varian, told ProteoMonitor. “You used to have to reformat your samples into other configurations to get them into NMR, which is very time-consuming.” With a set of robotic tools, the new platform integrates NMR with standard wet lab workflows, Green said.

Varian is marketing its high-throughput NMR mainly toward metabolomics applications — since NMR is better at analyzing small molecules than it is at analyzing large proteins. But NMR can play a role in protein structure determination as well, and some groups prefer it as a quicker and more reliable alternative than X-ray crystallography for determining the structure of small proteins (see PM 2-6-04).

Green said that the high-throughput determination of protein structure was an audience. “If you’re looking at the structure of a protein by NMR, what you want to do is take a look at the NMR, see if your sample is the right preparation, and if it’s not, you can take the sample out, add a couple of constituents, [and] put it back in the magnets,” Green said. But he added that in his view, NMR was more appropriate for looking at a protein’s function and the way it interacted with other proteins, than for determining structure. “The real part of NMR is the function and dynamics — structure is easier by X-ray, but the structure and dynamics are good by NMR,” he said.

Varian also released a new NMR magnet this week, called ActivelyCooled, which it is marketing as cheaper and easier to use than other magnets, due to its reduced dependence on cryogens (see p. 2).

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