2020 – A Year Turned Upside Down

What an incredible year 2020 has been. It started off like any other year and bam SARS-CoV-2 (aka COVID 19) entered the equation, bringing chaos and havoc to the world. Things kept changing overnight as new rules and regulations popped up. Masking, quarantine, and flatten the curve became common words in the news. How we met, how we interacted changed almost overnight. 

Throughout all of this, as we look to 2021, there is hope and optimism. Multiple vaccines have been developed, building on years of research into the SARS-CoV virus, with some approved for human use, and others on the horizon.

The efforts of our colleagues to perform research on this disease was nothing short of remarkable —putting on hold their current research to pivot to understand this disease that has killed over 1.7 million people worldwide as of this writing.

The response from the cytometry community was remarkable as well. Cytometry A instituted a ‘Fast-Track’ review policy for articles around SARS-CoV2. The ISAC Biosafety committee released guidelines for sorting SARS-CoV-2 infected cells, which was published here. An interest group was also established within ISAC, which published a paper reviewing the role of cytometrists in this area. Further, ISAC has an up to date list of resources for cytometrists including papers and webinars of interest on this topic. 

What I would like to do with this year-end blog is to share some of the interesting trends, developments, and more that have happened over the past year or so. There is no particular order to these as this is not a ranking. It’s my meandering thoughts of what is exciting and fresh.

The Year Of The Sorter

2020 started off by being the year of the sorter. BD-Bioscience FACSSymphony™ S6 sorter with 6-way sorting and 60 parameters became available. This system, that has been discussed over the past few years, is a reality and offers a lot of expansion for those who are used to the FACSAria™. Additionally, BD released 4-way sorting for the FACSMelody™; their smaller, highly configurable system.

Propel raised the bar for cell sorters with the release of the ‘Bigfoot.’ A lot of sorters in a small space —with up to 9 lasers and 60 detectors— the system offered a host of new features that really raised the bar on high-end sorters.

Not to be left on the sidelines, SONY released their MA900 sorter, an upgrade over their SH800 system allowing 4 way sorting with 14 parameters, along with lots of automation for system setup. 

In fact, one of the exciting trends is the increase in automation of the important but tedious tasks of system startup, alignment, and drop delay, to name a few. These advances allow facilities to get more work done in less time. 

If we cast our eyes forward to 2021, both Beckman-Coulter and Cytek will introduce new sorters into the market. It will be interesting to see how these two systems fit into the sorter space and offer new options for facilities seeking new options.

For those who use grants to fund instruments, such as the NIH S10 program, there will be multiple choices as to what you can write your grant for.

The Spectrum Is So Bright

That last bright thing in the field of fluorochromes was the release of the Sirigen Brilliant dyes. Those dyes have continued to expand so we have Brilliant Violets, Brilliant UV, and Brilliant Blue dyes. All very exciting and help with the creation of higher dimensional panels. In 2020, cytometrists were exposed to several new fluorochromes to expand the possibilities. 

The new Kiravia (‘sparkling’ in Japanese) from SONY is one of the new entries in this area. The first of these dyes, Kiravia Blue 520™, is a substitute for FITC, as it is brighter and shows better stability than that dye. It’ll be exciting to see what other dyes come out using this chemistry. 

Biolegend has also released the SPARK™ dyes, which are designed to be used within the spectral cytometry. They currently have Spark Blue™ 550, Spark YG™ 570, and Spark NIR™ 685. For those with spectral cytometers, these dyes offer new options in the panel design.

Not to be left behind, Cytek has released their CFluor™ dyes. These three dyes, CFluor™ YG584, CFluor™R720, and CFluor™ B548 also expand the possibilities of spectral cytometry.

Last, but not the least, is a new player in the fluorochrome stage, Phitonex™, with the NovaFlour reagents established in 2020. Using novel chemistry combining fluorescent dyes and ssDNA, they are able to create novel dyes across the spectrum. They currently offer 13 new fluorochromes for both traditional and spectral flow cytometry. 

Panel design has grown more interesting and 40+ fluorescent panels will become more and more common in the coming years. 

Meeting Virtually

With the travel restrictions that started being put in place in March 2020, organizations had to scramble to move from face to face meetings into the virtual world. Pivoting from a world where we all get together, to one where we spend our time using software like Microsoft Teams or Zoom to interact and hold meetings, was difficult. Everyone had to learn to remember to mute their microphones when the dogs barked, or kids needed help with the homework.

Cyto2020 was no exception, and ISAC should be given lots of credit for moving from the physical meeting in Philadelphia to the virtual event in August. 

The power of the virtual meeting was— especially where the talks were recorded— that it became possible to attend multiple sessions and not miss all the interesting talks that always seem to happen at the same time. It also made it easier for those in different timezones to interact and attend multiple meetings, since there were no travel costs.

Sure, networking and poster interactions were not the same, but we learned. With Cyto2021 also being virtual, we should all be old pro’s at the virtual interactions by then. Of course, it’ll mean that physical Cyto2020 is going to be an amazing event.

Overall, 2020 has been a difficult year at many levels. With the amazing work of our colleagues, we are fortunate to have multiple vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 available and being distributed. We learned how to work remotely while steering progress forward. We learned a lot about what we could do as a community. I think 2021 is going to see us build on what we’ve learned and I look forward to the new innovations and opportunities that it will offer our community. 

On behalf of the whole team here at the Cheeky Scientists Technical Programs – Expert Cytometry, Expert Microscopy, and Expert Sequencing, I wish each and every one of you a safe and happy 2021! 

To learn more about important control measures for your flow cytometry lab, and to get access to all of our advanced materials including 20 training videos, presentations, workbooks, and private group membership, get on the Flow Cytometry Mastery Class waitlist.

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Tim Bushnell, PhD
Tim Bushnell, PhD

Tim Bushnell holds a PhD in Biology from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He is a co-founder of—and didactic mind behind—ExCyte, the world’s leading flow cytometry training company, which organization boasts a veritable library of in-the-lab resources on sequencing, microscopy, and related topics in the life sciences.

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