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Petri dish gets a 21st century upgrade

Petri dishes, while not the most exciting pieces of laboratory equipment, play an important role in the process of cell culture, where researchers grow cells under controlled conditions. Traditionally, this time-consuming process involves petri dishes containing cells to be placed in an incubator and periodically checked under a microscope. In general, there is a lot of transport involved, creating opportunities for contamination.

To streamline the process, Caltech researchers gave the humble cylindrical container a much needed upgrade and enabled it to send real-time image updates to researchers' laptop from within an incubator. Popular Mechanics reports:

The new device, dubbed ePetri, uses an imaging chip from a mobile phone camera, a smartphone and Lego blocks. The imaging chip acts as the petri dish in the traditional sense, holding the cell culture beneath a sheet of protective plastic. The square chip is placed inside a platform made of Legos, and an Android phone hooks in place on top. The phone’s LED screen is used as a scanning light source, illuminating the image sensor.

The whole thing goes inside an incubator, and a cable connects to a computer outside, which reads the image sensor. This allows researchers to watch cell growth in real time — no extra cell transport, pipetting or external microscopes required. Watch a video [above] to see how well the system works.

Previously: From toy to medical gadget, Researchers develop a reliable electrical sensor no more invasive than a temporary tattoo, A credit card-sized device that can spot infectious diseases and Researchers engineer biological “devices” to program cells

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