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Chi Bio: Biotech Platform Of Tomorrow

The laboratory for some biologists seems a place of mundane routine, orchestrating the same processes and steps with precision and accuracy. To put on protective gloves, prepare the lab with consistent conditions without contamination. A somewhat robotic and automated practice. New technology has emerged with the ability to replace, and revolutionize the way experimentations are performed, rendering the laboratory routines obsolete. Chi Bio is an open-source platform, used for biological scientific research. It provides conditions for biological experiments and provides minute to minute up to date feedback regarding cellular behavior.

Development Of Chi Bio

Chi Bio was developed at the University of Oxford, founded by Dr. Harrison Steel. The motivation for the company was directed at the repetitive nature, and drudgery of experimentation set up protocols. Given the trend in robotic automation of repetitive jobs, Chi Bio aimed to address this.

Steel said  “For days, I would have to measure and dilute cells, which is very tedious if you’re doing it by hand. Now, after I set everything up, I can sit at home and watch each of my graphs and add chemicals or turn on lights and take measurements.”

Robot That Controls All The Cells

Steel went on to say that “The robots all started from a wish to do our experiments without leaving the office, which I am sure many biologists would love to hear. And so, we tried to make a robot which would do all of the measurement and control of our cells for us.”

How Chi Bio Works

Chi Bio uses circuit boards, to grow cells, dilute, probe, and measure cultures all remotely. It comprises three components, which are computer control, peristaltic pumps for liquid handling, and bioreactors.

Steel said “The device has a really cheap chip spectrometer, which was only released a couple of years ago. Also, a whole array of different LEDs in a single LED chip is built into the device, so you can output and carefully control the complete visual spectrum of light, which is very important for measuring fluorescent proteins, or for growing certain photosynthetic cells. Over time, I added heat plates, stirring, temperature sensors, and all this pumping hardware.”

Addressing The Issues Connected To Previous Innovations

Chi Bio addressed the issues of eVOLVER, which was a previous innovation aimed to provide remote access to biological experimentation. eVOLVER is a DIY microfluid system, allowing controlled growth of bacteria, but has shortfall applications which Chi Bio addresses.

Chi Bio Vs. eVolver

When prompted about eVOLVER, Steel said “You don’t have the same level of control as our device; you can’t measure all these fluorescent proteins and you can’t do optogenetics, and you’re limited to the number of pumps and inputs that are going to each reactor. We tried to make a very adaptable system, which can be used in many different applications. We tried to make it very cheap. And we tried to make it scalable as well”.

Considering eVOLVER costs $5000 to $10,000 USD depending on the sensor accessories required, the $300 cost of Chi Bio, alongside the advantageous benefits, appears very affordable. However, it is important to bear in mind, the relevant equipment would be upwards of $100,000, without even considering the time investments which these technologies significantly reduce.

Experimentation In A Safe Environment

The company combines heat, stirring, liquid handling, optogenetics, and spectrometry into a platform, to abide by rudimentary laboratory protocols, thus reducing equipment costs, while ensuring reliability and simplicity. Chi Bio allows experimentation in a safe, uncontainable environment. Previously a myriad of laboratory equipment was required, and the transportation of chemicals and biological material between different equipment created room for contamination.

Experiments In A Matter Of Minutes

Chi Bio allows experiments to be set up in a matter of minutes, with its easy interface and allows remote monitoring. Remote experimentation without intervention necessary, which is revolutionary since previous experiments required the physical restriction to the laboratory proximity.

Harrison went on to say “it allows you to run experiments for many days at a time. Before using such a robot, we would need to wake up every three hours during the night to add chemicals, which was obviously a bit tedious”. Furthermore, the conditions can be altered when necessary while the experiment is underway, via the remote internet interface.

Controlled Consistency As A Key Part Of Biological Experimentation

Controlled consistency is important for biological experimentation, which is compromised with human error. Using controlled and static environments, nutrient availability, and temperature regulation across cultures undergoing the same experiment is important. Chi Bio allows this consistency. The turbid state feature of Chi Bio allows cultures to grow, whilst being diluted, to maintain constant optical density (OD).

The Chi Bio can alter temperature using a heat plate, capable of heating 20mL culture at a rate of 2◦C per minute. Furthermore, magnetic stirring is possible, and the rate of stirring is adjustable. The platform operating system allows a user interface that can change conditions, and monitor the collected data in real-time.

Accurate Data Collection Method

Data collected from the device is plotted in real-time as collected, thus becoming far more accurate. Some previous experimentation relied on the human observations to be recorded, therefore the automatic up to date data collection mechanism would prove to far exceed the accuracy of observation.

Chi Bio’s Application

There have been widespread applications of Chi Bio. Microsoft research has adapted the technology, at the Imperial College of London. A Ph.D. student, Alice Boo, using Chi Bio at the college, said “Chi Bio is starting to change how we are running our experiments in the lab to reveal novel dynamic properties of our DNA synthetic constructs. It has a super friendly interface and it saves a lot of time when it comes to setting up experiments”.

Evolutionary Biology And Synthetics

The applications extend across evolutionary biology and synthetics. Fluorescent proteins have applications in many areas of biological research, especially for living cell research. Chi Bio is designed for catering towards fluorescent proteins, for excitation, and measuring their concentration via their inbuilt spectrometer.

Increasing Gap Between The Haves And Have-Nots

The decision to keep Chi Bio open source allowed the widespread application to impoverished countries, biological research with low capital, and catering startups. Harrison said “In many scientific fields we are observing an increasing gap between the haves and have-nots. Amazing breakthroughs are being made on the back of new technologies, but the financial and time investment required to take advantage of these is often out of reach for small laboratories, start-ups, and researchers in developing countries. To lower these barriers to entry, we made our platform open source, and have started to build a collaborative support community around it that anyone can participate in”.

Costs Of The Chi Bio Kit

It costs $300 for the Chi Bio kit, which can be assembled using the online instruction manual, or a pre-assembled kit directly from LabMaker, for just under $1000. The price is achieved through recent cheap components. Steel said “The device has a really cheap chip spectrometer, which was only released a couple of years ago, Also, a whole array of different LEDs in a single LED chip is built into the device, so you can output and carefully control the complete visual spectrum of light, which is very important for measuring fluorescent proteins, or for growing certain photosynthetic cells. Over time, I added heat plates, stirring, temperature sensors, and all this pumping hardware”. 

Revolutionizing Low-Cost Biological Experimentation

Chi Bio is automating biological experimentation, at an extremely low cost. It has therefore become a pioneer, allowing smaller companies to enter the field, providing more room for innovation. Furthermore, the ability of remote access has allowed biologists to conduct and monitor experiments anywhere that has an internet connection. A biologist could hypothetically remotely monitor experiments while relaxing on the beach, which would be rather tempting compared to the lab. 

Jon is a writer for RegTech Global, specialized background is in Computer Science, Zoology, Finance, and Neuroscience. He is interested in biotechnology and Green-tech and pursues these fields in his professional life. Outside of writing, Jon is passionate about the outdoors, enjoying hiking, surfing, and skiing.


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