Can the Biomark X9 revolutionise aquatic pathogen testing?

The Biomark X9 high-throughput genomics system offers cost-effective, high-throughput and automated solutions for PCR and next-generation sequencing (NGS) workflows in aquaculture laboratories – be they on-farm, or within research institutions.

Developed by Standard BioTools (previously known as Fluidigm), the Biomark X9 has the potential to significantly upgrade the level of biosecurity on fish and shrimp farms of all scales – offering early warning of any impending health threats as well as rapid diagnosis of any pathogens present in the water or in the animals themselves.

According to Phillip Kilgas, product manager for the system, although the X9 was developed for the human health sector, the company sees aquaculture as one of the most promising avenues to diversify into – due to the variety of farmed species, the variety of pathogens that they are exposed to, and the open (relatively non-biosecure) nature of many aquaculture systems.

“The Biomark X9 is better suited to aquaculture than to other livestock sectors, such as cattle or poultry, as our technology fits better – cattle and poultry only have a few pathogens, and a few samples at a time, to deal with, so a more traditional PCR approach fits well for them. On the other hand aquaculture involves large numbers of animals in each farm, and a wide range of diseases – which makes it a good fit for our technology,” he explains.

According to Kilgas, the Biomark X9 combines a number of functions that previously required numerous devices to achieve.

“Our R&D team figured out a way to consolidate these into one instrument and put different applications onto a single platform. For example the Biomark X9 can do real time PCR and NGS library prep all in one system – it’s the first instrument on the market that’s able to handle both these applications and this will give researchers and farmers access to the ever growing number of genomic applications that can be performed in the aquaculture space,” he notes.

The Biomark X9 was launched at the end of 2022, initially with a focus on PCR, with NGS capabilities being added more recently.

“We’ve already had a lot of success in the public health sector, in dealing with novel diseases and breakouts,” notes Kilgas. “And I think the same will apply to aquaculture, because of the range of pathogens that effect the industry.”

Remarkably, despite the increase in functions, the machines are becoming more portable.

“We’re consolidating the design down so it’s a much smaller, benchtop platform,” Kilgas explains.

And although the machines are primarily designed to be used in onshore laboratories, they have also been successfully trialled in more testing conditions.

“One customer has installed one on a boat, where it has been used to monitor salmon runs in Alaska during the fishing season, to hep understand their migration patterns. However, it’s a unique use case and we had to do a very specific engineering feat, which is not necessarily scalable,” Kilgas reveals.

Despite the complexity of the machine, operating it is straightforward, according to Kilgas.

“It’s pretty much plug-and-play. Operating the Biomark X9 is similar to doing conventional PCR, but because we use nanolitre volumes, and combining multiple assays into one plate, it makes it much faster and easier to perform multiple experiments in one go.”

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