Research Article: An automated and parallelised DIY-dosing unit for individual and complex feeding profiles: Construction, validation and applications

Date Published: June 19, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Sabine G. Wagner, Christoph Mähler, Ingmar Polte, Jeremy von Poschinger, Hannes Löwe, Andreas Kremling, Katharina Pflüger-Grau, Thomas Scheibel.


Since biotechnological research becomes more and more important for industrial applications, there is an increasing need for scalable and controllable laboratory procedures. A widely used approach in biotechnological research to improve the performance of a process is to vary the growth rates in order to find the right balance between growth and the production. This can be achieved by the application of a suitable feeding strategy. During this initial bioprocess development, it is beneficial to have at hand cheap and easy setups that work in parallel (e.g. in shaking flasks). Unfortunately, there is a gap between these easy setups and defined and controllable processes, which are necessary for up-scaling to an industrial relevant volume. One prerequisite to test and evaluate different process strategies apart from batch-mode is the availability of pump systems that allow for defined feeding profiles in shaking flasks. To our knowledge, there is no suitable dosing device on the market which fulfils the requirements of being cheap, precise, programmable, and parallelizable. Commercially available dosing units are either already integrated in bioreactors and therefore inflexible, or not programmable, or expensive, or a combination of those. Here, we present a LEGO-MINDSTORMS-based syringe pump, which has the potential of being widely used in daily laboratory routine due to its low price, programmability, and parallelisability. The acquisition costs do not exceed 350 € for up to four dosing units, that are independently controllable with one EV3 block. The system covers flow rates ranging from 0.7 μL min-1 up to 210 mL min-1 with a reliable flux. One dosing unit can convey at maximum a volume of 20 mL (using all 4 units even up to 80 mL in total) over the whole process time. The design of the dosing unit enables the user to perform experiments with up to four different growth rates in parallel (each measured in triplicates) per EV3-block used. We estimate, that the LEGO-MINDSTORMS-based dosing unit with 12 syringes in parallel is reducing the costs up to 50-fold compared to a trivial version of a commercial pump system (~1500 €) which fits the same requirements. Using the pump, we set the growth rates of a E. coli HMS174/DE3 culture to values between 0.1 and 0.4 h-1 with a standard deviation of at best 0.35% and an average discrepancy of 13.2%. Additionally, we determined the energy demand of a culture for the maintenance of the pTRA-51hd plasmid by quantifying the changes in biomass yield with different growth rates set. Around 25% of total substrate taken up is used for plasmid maintenance. To present possible applications and show the flexibility of the system, we applied a constant feed to perform microencapsulation of Pseudomonas putida and an individual dosing profile for the purification of a his-tagged eGFP via IMAC. This smart and versatile dosing unit, which is ready-to-use without any prior knowledge in electronics and control, is affordable for everyone and due to its flexibility and broad application range a valuable addition to the laboratory routine.

Partial Text

Controllable pump systems are necessary for a broad range of applications including the process control of biotechnological cultures. This is at the same time a very challenging way to perform dosing as often time-depending and non-linear profiles are required [1] In industrial applications usually the fed-batch-mode is preferred over a mere batch process [2–4]. A constant but limiting substrate feed reduces the probability of overflow metabolism as potential and unwanted side-product formation [5], and prevents substrate inhibition, which in turn lead to higher cell densities [6] and consequently to enhanced biomass production [7, 8].