Home Bots & Brains Machine learning robot for genetics research

Machine learning robot for genetics research

by Pieter Werner

Researchers at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities have developed a robot that utilizes machine learning to fully automate the microinjection process in genetic research. This robot can autonomously manipulate genetic materials in multicellular organisms such as fruit fly and zebrafish embryos.

Detailed in the April 2024 issue of the scientific journal GENETICS, this technology promises to enhance the efficiency of genetic experiments by reducing both time and financial costs associated with manual microinjection methods.

Microinjection involves inserting substances directly into cells or tissues using a fine pipette. The new robot is designed to detect tiny embryos—each only one-hundredth the size of a grain of rice—calculate the injection path, and execute the process autonomously. According to Suhasa Kodandaramaiah, a mechanical engineering associate professor at the University of Minnesota and senior author of the study, the automation provided by this robot achieves a higher level of precision and reproducibility compared to traditional manual techniques.

The development of this technology could also broaden the scope of genetic research. Daryl Gohl, a co-author of the study and the group leader at the University of Minnesota Genomics Center’s Innovation Lab, noted the potential for the robot to facilitate large-scale genetic studies across various organisms. Beyond genetic research, the technology has applications in cryopreservation to aid in preserving endangered species, and potentially, in in vitro fertilization processes.

The research project involved collaboration with the University’s Engineering Research Center for Advanced Technologies for the Preservation of Biological Systems (ATP-Bio) and the Zebrafish Core. Funding was provided by the National Institute of Health, Minnesota Sea Grant, and the National Science Foundation, among other sources.

The team, led by mechanical engineering graduate students Andrew Alegria and Amey Joshi, is also exploring commercial avenues to make this technology accessible through a University of Minnesota startup, Objective Biotechnology. Their efforts were recently recognized at the University’s “Walleye Tank” life science competition, highlighting their innovative approach in the field of genetic research.

Photo: the microinjection robot detects embryos that are one-hundredth the size of a grain of rice, calculates a path, and automates the process. Credit: Andrew Alegria, University of Minnesota Twin Cities. Credit: Andrew Alegria, University of Minnesota Twin Cities


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