3-D printing lowers the cost of laboratory equipment

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FlypiLaboratory equipment is one of the largest cost factors in neuroscience.  Now researchers, using 3-D printed components, have developed FlyPi, a low-cost imaging and microscope system for research, training and teaching.

However, many experiments can be performed with good results using self-assembled setups involving 3-D printed components and self-programmed electronics. In a study, André Maia Chagas and Tom Baden from the University of Tübingen and the University of Sussex present FlyPi  a low-cost imaging and microscope system for research, training and teaching.

The intricate equipment necessary for modern neuroscience experiments can easily cost tens or even hundreds of thousands of Euros when relying on commercially available solutions, confining top-level research and scientific training to well-endowed institutes in rich countries.

“FlyPi” can perform many standard lab protocols, including light and fluorescence microscopy, optogenetics, thermogenetics, and behavioural studies on small animals such as roundworms, fruit flies, zebrafish larvae. The design is based on a 3-D printed framework holding a Raspberry Pi computer and camera, cheap LEDs for lighting and simple lenses, as well as optical and thermal control circuits based on Arduino, an open-source microcontroller. Taken together, the components cost less than 100 Euros for the basic system, and can be modified to suit the lab’s purposes. The FlyPi system provides modular, low-cost options for research and assembly, and instructions for use are made available free of charge via open-source platforms.

The developers of the FlyPi system share a keen interest in spreading “open labware.” Together with co-author Lucia Prieto Godino of the University of Lausanne, the developers have taught courses in 3-D printing, programming and DIY lab equipment at universities in Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Sudan and Tanzania.

“Many institutions around the world have little money to spend on costly equipment,” says Baden. “We think it is very important that neuroscientific training and research open up to larger numbers of students and junior scientists. So we hope that, with open labware such as our FlyPi, we can offer a starting point.”

Abstract
Small, genetically tractable species such as larval zebrafish, Drosophila, or Caenorhabditis elegans have become key model organisms in modern neuroscience. In addition to their low maintenance costs and easy sharing of strains across labs, one key appeal is the possibility to monitor single or groups of animals in a behavioural arena while controlling the activity of select neurons using optogenetic or thermogenetic tools. However, the purchase of a commercial solution for these types of experiments, including an appropriate camera system as well as a controlled behavioural arena, can be costly. Here, we present a low-cost and modular open-source alternative called ‘FlyPi’. Our design is based on a 3D-printed mainframe, a Raspberry Pi computer, and high-definition camera system as well as Arduino-based optical and thermal control circuits. Depending on the configuration, FlyPi can be assembled for well under €100 and features optional modules for light-emitting diode (LED)-based fluorescence microscopy and optogenetic stimulation as well as a Peltier-based temperature stimulator for thermogenetics. The complete version with all modules costs approximately €200 or substantially less if the user is prepared to ‘shop around’. All functions of FlyPi can be controlled through a custom-written graphical user interface. To demonstrate FlyPi’s capabilities, we present its use in a series of state-of-the-art neurogenetics experiments. In addition, we demonstrate FlyPi’s utility as a medical diagnostic tool as well as a teaching aid at Neurogenetics courses held at several African universities. Taken together, the low cost and modular nature as well as fully open design of FlyPi make it a highly versatile tool in a range of applications, including the classroom, diagnostic centres, and research labs.

Authors
Andre Maia Chagas, Lucia L Prieto-Godino, Aristides B Arrenberg, Tom Baden

PLOS material
PLOS Biology abstract


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