Spencer Entrepreneurial Fund grants awarded


Two grants have been awarded to Bigelow Laboratory scientists through The Sash A. and Mary M. Spencer Entrepreneurial Fund, a fund that provides seed money in support of commercialization activities and collaborations with industry partners.

Dr. Peter Countway received a grant for his proposal to develop real-time PCR technology for the aquaculture industry in collaboration with Biomeme Inc. The project aims to utilize Biomeme’s handheld, real-time PCR device, the 'Two3', to detect Vibrio, a pathogenic bacteria that can cause foodborne infection in raw or undercooked shellfish. PCR, or polymerase chain reaction, refers to a quick and cost-effective biotechnology that is used to make copies of short but informative segments of DNA to identify specific gene targets. This method can be used for the detection of bacteria and viruses in the environment though typical lab-based PCR systems require that samples be brought into the lab for analysis. Biomeme’s Two3 allows for this technology to be utilized on-site in the field for direct, quick testing and results. Countway explains, “By using the Two3 platform to develop an assay that can test for pathogens like Vibrio in the field, we are developing a tool that will provide the growing aquaculture industry a means of ensuring the security and safety of their products. The same technology can also be tuned to look for pathogens that affect the survival of juvenile oysters - which could potentially help to increase yields from aquaculture operations.”

The second award was given jointly to Drs. David Emerson and Mike Lomas for their proposal to develop a set of standard, carefully-calibrated communities of marine microbes that can be used as control communities or mock communities for scientists conducting genetic analysis. The project will take advantage of the culture collection and expertise in microbial growth methods of the NCMA, as well as the knowledge of genomics methods represented by Bigelow Laboratory scientists.

Emerson explains, “Genomic analysis using high throughput DNA sequencing methods is a rapidly evolving technology, which includes three steps: preparation of DNA samples, DNA sequencing, and analysis of results using sophisticated computer analytics. Each step has its own complexities, and there is no universal method for any of the steps. This product will provide a standard for the assessment of how well DNA isolation procedures and analytics pipelines are performing, provide greater confidence in inter-dataset comparisons, and improve quantitative estimates based on genomic studies. In addition, these mock communities can be used as standards for instrument calibration and methods development.” The project will produce mock communities representative of open-ocean microbial communities, and those that live on or in the seafloor.

Grants were selected by an internal peer-review committee, and awarded to proposals that have the potential to lead to industrial collaborations while staying true to the institutional objectives of the Laboratory. Additional donations to The Sash A. and Mary M. Spencer Entrepreneurial Fund are welcome. To make a gift online, click here and enter "Spencer Fund" as the special purpose.

Read more about the Spencer Fund in our 2016 Summer issue of Transect.

Photo: The compact, portable Biomeme ‘Two3’ handheld PCR device (left) in comparison to a traditional, lab-based, real-time quantitative PCR system and laptop.