Emma Chory, a postdoctoral fellow in the Sculpting Evolution group, won the 2022 SLAS Innovation Award for her podium presentation, "Phage and Robotics-Assisted Directed Evolution," at the SLAS 2022 International Conference and Exhibition hosted by the Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening (SLAS).
Chory’s presentation detailed the development of two systems, which enable the autonomous, robust, and data-responsive evolution of biomolecules in high-throughput by 1) expanding the experimental repertoire of liquid-handling systems and 2) applying these systems to questions in biomolecular engineering and evolutionary phenomena. The presentation described her team’s development of the Pyhamilton platform, an open-source, flexible Python-based automation platform, which enables entirely new applications for Hamilton liquid-handling robots. With these platform modifications, Chory and her co-authors, Erika DeBenedictis, Dana Gretton, Brian Wang, Stefan Golas, and principal investigator Kevin Esvelt, further enhanced the platform to a phage-and-robotics assisted near-continuous evolution (PRANCE), which provides the opportunity to answer fundamental questions in evolutionary biology, recapitulate naturally occurring environmental changes and simulate perturbations to these environments—all within the laboratory.
"I’m completely blown away by the reception to our work, the response from the SLAS community, and so grateful for all the scientists and engineers who have engaged with this project (especially my co-authors!),” Chory says. “Over the years, SLAS has defined what it means to create next-generation science, so to be deemed “innovative” in that context holds a particularly high honor. Our open-source robot integration and high-throughput directed evolution platforms aren’t just about increasing throughput or speed, but about enabling entirely new types of experiments and questions that weren’t previously possible. Sometimes as an academic, automation can feel like a luxury reserved for streamlining processes rather than answering questions, so I hope this award inspires other basic scientists to tackle new (and old) questions from entirely different angles."
The SLAS Innovation Award is a $10,000 cash prize recognizing the work behind one exceptional podium presentation. This award honors innovative research that contributes to the exploration of technologies in the laboratory, exceeds a benchmark or milestone in screening or the lead discovery process, or demonstrates an advanced and integrated use of mature technologies.