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$1.3-million marine biotechnology lab at UPEI includes robotic/automated workstation


CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - The P.E.I. company Russ Kerr started more than a decade ago – Nautilus Biosciences – has come a long way from when he was the lone employee.

Wednesday, the company, now owned by the U.K.-based Croda International Plc, officially opened the new robotic screening laboratory – The Croda Centre of Innovation for Marine Biotechnology – located in the Regis and Joan Duffy Research Centre on the UPEI campus.

The company also unveiled its new $1.3-million robotic/automated workstation.

“It’s really exciting. I mean, to go from starting a company in 2007, employee number one in 2008, being in this partnership with Croda in 2011 and now to be part of a big multinational company and have this really phenomenal state-of-the-art liquid-handling robot – the best of its kind in Canada – it’s really gratifying and exciting,” said Kerr, Nautilus Biosciences’ research fellow and Canada Research Chair in Marine Natural Products at UPEI.

Russ Kerr, research fellow with Nautilus Biosciences Croda, stands in front of the company’s $1.3 million robotic workstation in their new laboratory on the UPEI campus.
Russ Kerr, research fellow with Nautilus Biosciences Croda, stands in front of the company’s $1.3 million robotic workstation in their new laboratory on the UPEI campus.

The company has grown to 10 scientists in Charlottetown.

Kerr said the company is involved in collecting and screening marine microbe samples, such as bacteria and fungi. Within the next couple of years, Croda plans to use the data from those activities to commercially release products for skin and hair care.

He said the company is also looking at ways to apply the research to crop care.

Kerr said there is nothing unique about marine microbials in terms of their application to skin and hair care products, but there is more microbial biodiversity in the ocean than on land.

So far, the company’s microbial collection has about 6,000 organism samples (4,000 bacteria and 2,000 fungi) collected from places around the world, including the Arctic Ocean, Dead Sea, Mediterranean Sea and the Caribbean.

Prior to acquiring the robotic workstation – which is also used by large pharmaceutical companies - scientists would do the work, using a hand-held device with eight syringes that inject samples into multi-well plates at one time.

“That’s very labour intensive. And, of course, someone is doing this repetitively hour after hour, day after day, mistakes can be made – we’re all human.”

The robotic workstation can perform the same task with 96 sample injections at one time with greater precision, and faster.

“It doesn’t make mistakes.”

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The Croda Centre of Innovation for Marine Biotechnology – located in the Regis and Joan Duffy Research Centre on the UPEI campus – officially opened Wednesday. Part of the laboratory’s equipment is a new $1.3-million robotic/automated workstation.
The Croda Centre of Innovation for Marine Biotechnology – located in the Regis and Joan Duffy Research Centre on the UPEI campus – officially opened Wednesday. Part of the laboratory’s equipment is a new $1.3-million robotic/automated workstation.

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