Bar Codes Help Celera Map Human Genome

Bar Codes Help Celera Map Human Genome
From Sampling to Sequencing, Bar Coding Helped Celera Discover First
For some companies, asset tracking is simply a way to save money by using bar code labels
to keep tabs on computers and other company equipment. But for Celera Genomics of
Rockville, MD, using bar code labels to keep track of DNA samples and test results is an
absolute necessity. Celera, the first company to sequence and map the human genome (the
genetic blueprint of humanity), was managing procedures, critical machinery, raw
materials, and data long before their scientific breakthrough.
“From the onset of our mission to genetically define ‘human,’ we realized that keeping tabs
every step of the way was a must to ensure our results and validate our findings,” says
Celera Genomics’ director of quality systems, Peter Amanatides. “Coming from a logistical
background, I was familiar with the benefits of bar code printing and scanning. We decided
to implement the technology here to drive our sequencing process and structure the
procedures around it.”
Celera’s first challenge was to find a label that would withstand the unusual conditions of a
gene-sequencing lab. The labels needed to be water- and chemical-resistant, heat- and
cold-tolerant, and maintain visual and scanning readability while staying affixed to the
plates and equipment.
“The harsh conditions of our lab and storage facilities necessitate a durable label that is
long-lasting,” says Amanatides. “We tested numerous labels over the course of several
months, and all but one of them peeled or failed a readability test. Zebra’s Z-Ultimate®
label was the only survivor.”
Likewise, Celera needed top-of-the-line bar code printers that could handle the same
unusual conditions in a lab while taking the abuse of novice users, since Celera’s staff is
primarily comprised of scientists, lab technicians, and software developers. Celera chose
Zebra’s Xi series printers.
“I have used Zebra printers in the past so I am very familiar with their rugged, 24-hour
continuous duty cycles,” says Amanatides. “I chose an all-metal Zebra printer because we
need a reliable solution that is flexible for our various printing applications.”
Using about 30 of Zebra’s Xi series printers, Celera is able to print 300 dpi (dots per inch)
labels containing bar codes and text. With the superior clarity of these labels, employees can
print small labels for DNA samples or strand labeling without sacrificing readability or
scanning quality.
“We have an unusual need to label very small items, and can’t risk sacrificing print quality,”
Amanatides says. “With the Xi series printers, our labels come out sharp, remain clear
through our processes, and scan accurately every time. In our business, that is the kind of
reliability we depend upon.”
At Celera, virtually everything is bar code-labeled, including machinery, employee badges,
samples, plates, back-up tapes, and legal files.
“We developed the software in-house to monitor our entire system, basing it on the
accuracy of bar code label scanning,” says Amanatides. “From the first step to the final
stored, sequenced code, bar code scanning drives the procedures.”
When Celera receives samples of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid - the building blocks of
genes) from vendors, an employee immediately prints a label and affixes it to the container.
The label has both a bar code and human-readable text detailing the contents. Samples are
moved to the storage labs until needed for DNA testing. When production requests a
sample, a Celera technician scans the bar code label and updates the database to show that
the sample has been moved from storage into production. Next, the sample is prepared for
duplication. The technician places the DNA into a bio-acid dish, where it is inserted into
bacteria and grown.
Once the lab has a sufficient amount of replicated DNA to begin testing, the technician
puts the DNA samples onto plates similar to large petri dishes—each tagged with a bar
code label. The bar code on the original sample container and the plate labels are scanned,
automatically notifying the system of the sample transfer.
The technician scans the plates one at a time into a Q-bot, a machine driven by a Celeradeveloped software program that strategically chooses the most viable and concentrated
strands of DNA and places them into a Tomtech pipeting liquid instrument located within
the Q-bot. The Tomtech instrument transfers the selected DNA onto a new plate, then the
technician removes the original plate and scans the bar code on the new plate as the
superior DNA is removed from the machine.
“With bar codes to track the DNA through technologically advanced machines such as the
Q-bot, we have found that humans contain about 30,000 to 35,000 genes—only twice as
many as a fruit fly,” says Amanatides. “Humans are also 99.9 percent genetically identical,
differing only by approximately 2.1 million genetic letters.”
Once the technician removes the new plates from the Q-bot, he or she thoroughly cleans
the DNA and removes all bacteria. The clean DNA is transferred to the plasma lab, again
through bar code scanning, where a technician purifies it and transfers it to a new plate.
The technician scans out the new plate and sends the DNA to the sequencing chemistry lab,
where it is scanned in and the cycle sequencing reaction begins.
The DNA is sent through a formide lab for further cleaning, after which a technician scans
it into the sequencing machines to complete the three-hour-long process of analyzing all of
the strands and putting them in order. With a Celera-created software program driving the
sequencing procedure, all the data is collected and sent to the data center for assembly and
code sequencing.
“We currently run 300 automated sequencing machines non-stop, enabling us to sequence
about two billion base pairs of DNA per month,” says Amanatides. “In the past, it took
scientists all over the world decades to manually uncover only a small portion of this data.
With bar code technology to track the procedures and results, we were able to super-charge
the process and quickly finish sequencing and assembling the human genome in only nine
After sequencing, the technician scans the plates out of the machines and sends them to the
storage facility. Most sequenced samples are stored at -88º F (-67º C) for a minimal time
period while the data is verified.
In the data center, Celera employees assemble the collected DNA codes from the sequencing
machines and complete the final sequencing. The results containing the final data are saved
on tapes that are bar code-labeled and scanned for backup storage.
“With the Xi
series printers,
our labels come
out sharp, remain
clear through our
processes, and
scan accurately
every time. In our
business, that is
the kind of
reliability we
depend upon.”
“Because of the efficiency of bar code labeling and scanning, Celera has successfully
jump-started the gene sequencing process,” said Amanatides. “With our winning
combination of Zebra printers and supplies, we can accurately record, store, and recall all
our data—a vital tool in our business as we race to uncode the human genome.”
Celera’s next project is working with the National Institutes of Health to map the
laboratory rat genetically. With these results, Celera hopes to give scientists a clearer view of
drug reactions, as rats are widely used in research on high blood pressure, cancer, and brain
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