Chief Science Correspondent
Scientists soon may be able to conduct automated research from miles away, thanks to the California-based biotechnological innovation company Emerald Therapeutics.
The company announced this morning the release of the Emerald Cloud Laboratory. With this new system, scientists can log onto the internet and program a set of controlled conditions for an experiment.
"We wanted to pool all of our data for instruments and experiments into a single platform for analysis and visualization," an Emerald employee said in a YouTube video. "Finally, someone asked, 'What if we could program our experiments in the lab, without ever leaving our desks?"
The ECL incorporates over 1,000 different programmed controls into a single system at the company's center. Users would have access to sample information, real-time control conditions, and experimental yields. Although Emerald has not yet reported what factors would be able to be manipulated, it is likely that the conditions include temperature, pressure and chemical exposures. Users can type in the conditions, and across the country, the machine will automatically do all the work.
"The system allows researchers to focus on their science without being burdened by the grunt work," the company said.
Emerald has not yet stated the institutional cost of using the ECL, but it is likely that this technology would be very valuable for universities and research centers with limited funding, because they would have the ability to conduct their own experiments on machines that otherwise may be difficult to maintain, either because of cost or availability issues.
My professor once told me about a set of experiments he conducted while working for a university in which he needed to purchase an expensive machine to complete his study, but he knew that he would not need the machine after that week. This is a fairly common issue in science research, and it's why many laboratories will form collaborations.
It remains to be seen whether Emerald would be realistic for these types of laboratories; however, I strongly suspect access will be much more affordable than purchasing new equipment for every experiment.
However, the technology does raise some concerns. Science research needs to be reproducible, meaning that one laboratory can match the protocols of another and obtain the same result. If scientists gravitate toward the use of a single universal machine in the same laboratory, it may be more difficult to detect errors in the experiment.
The cloud laboratory has the potential to make research more accessible, effective and standardized for millions of science researchers. However, only time will reveal the total effectiveness of this system. Hopefully, we'll be hearing a lot more about the ECL over the next decade.