Wavelength Tech Forum: Fluorescence Spectroscopy

November 28, 2005

Wavelength Tech Forum: Fluorescence Spectroscopy

Conventional fluorescence spectrometry and luminometry are starting to face heavy competition from microplate readers, which can handle higher throughputs and allow automation. This month in the Technology Forum, we look at how the market for fluorescence spectroscopy is evolving to meet these challenges. Our participants are: Chad Ostrander, MS business and product marketing manager at Hitachi High Technologies America; Richard Larsen, scientific applications manager at Jasco, Inc.; Wendy Gardinier, scientific product specialist at Jasco; and David Haines, product specialist at Varian, Inc.

How has the spectrofluorometry market changed in the past 5-10 years? Where do you see it going in the future?

(Ostrander) The market has expanded over the past ten years due to the increase in biotechnology, as well as academic institutions upgrading their labs to include this technique.

(Larsen, Gardinier) There is now a greater emphasis on biochemical/protein analysis and smaller sample sizes, with a continuation of this trend as a result of the demand for protein analysis and protein synthesis (proteomics).

(Haines) In the past 5-10 years, the proportion of customers using fluorescence spectroscopy for life science research has continued to increase. A typical fluorescence user is now a life science researcher studying molecular processes in vitro, in vivo or both. The available range of fluorescent probes has increased significantly too. These include a large range of fluorescent proteins, quantum dots and lanthanide-based probes for time-gated measurements. The rate of development of novel fluorescence probes as well as probe labeling kits is not expected to abate in the foreseeable future.

To what extent has the demand for microplate readers (MPRs) affected the market for conventional spectrofluorometry?

(Ostrander) It has increased awareness of the technique to a wider population of users of both routine fluorescence spectroscopy instruments and those that require MPRs. The requirements of each user have shown the limitations of one system over the other. The awareness, however, has benefited both.

(Larsen, Gardinier) There is a need to integrate conventional instruments with microplate readers. This integration provides a more flexible instrument, capable of performing standard fluorescence analysis methods while providing the capability to perform high-throughput analyses.

(Haines) Conventional spectrofluorometry and MPRs are complementary technologies. The market for research grade spectrofluorometers continues to grow because assay development laboratories require the flexibility of a spectrofluorometer for characterization and optimization of new labeling chemistries. Once the system has been well characterized, conversion to an appropriate microplate format can proceed. Ultimately, growth in both markets is fueled by the continued development of novel fluorescence probes.

Given the growth of microplate reader technology, are there applications that will sustain the demand for conventional spectrofluorometry?

(Ostrander) Yes, just as basic UV systems have continued to expand in the market, so will conventional FL systems. The demand is not only based on the number of samples but also on the accessories and software for each specific application.

(Larsen, Gardinier) Absolutely. In addition, there are materials research needs such as fluorophores in flat panel displays that will require conventional instrumentation. Microplate readers are useful, but they have numerous limitations and are dedicated purpose instruments. One cannot, for instance, provide kinetics data or quantitative methods as easily with a dedicated instrument compared with a conventional fluorometer.

(Haines) There are a number of fluorescence applications that cannot be performed adequately using MPRs. Examples include protein and nucleic acid melting experiments, rapid kinetics measurements, measurement of solid sample fluorescence, and measurement of samples dissolved in organic solvents not compatible with microplates, such as petroleum samples. Both spectrofluorometry and luminometry are widely used in biotech applications, environmental analyses and academic research.

In the future, what other areas can you see these techniques being used in more?

(Ostrander) New areas in the testing of solids, powders, and other surface measurements will expand. New dyes are being developed to help identify and trace materials back to the manufacturer in the areas of currency, document control, homeland security, and expanding current markets.

(Larsen, Gardinier) Materials research, wound repair (following protein formulation), anti-fouling materials, bio-recognition platforms and chemical sensors, to name a few.

(Haines) Other opportunities for fluorescence spectroscopy include food and beverage applications, forensics, and petroleum research. North America and Europe use spectrofluorometry and luminometry the most, but four of the five top vendors in this market are Japanese.

What do you think are the differences in these markets?

(Larsen, Gardinier) North American users may require less labor-intensive analysis methods compared with other countries around the world. They are also interested in dedicated purpose instrumentation as a result of analysis requirements. Other than those specific items, there aren't major differences in the markets for fluorometers.

(Haines) The applications are similar across these markets. All three regions support a substantial level of high quality life science research in academia and the private sector. However, whereas biotechnology and the pharmaceutical industry have been the driving force for growth in North America and Europe, there is a greater focus on materials science in the Japanese market.