The ability to extract biological information from a given environment has undergone substantial change in just the past 4 to 5 years. Some of the latest hardware designed for quantitative PCR, antibody and protein detection, and even genomic sequencing can easily fit in your coat pocket. The writing on the wall illustrates a future where advanced molecular diagnostics, biosurveillance, and forensic testing no longer requires transporting a sample back to a central reference laboratory. Samples can be processed on site, at the point-of-need, alleviating processing bottlenecks and dramatically reducing the time to acquire an actionable result. However, this future has not yet been fully realized. Despite the footprint of the molecular hardware becoming remarkably small, the operational footprint of the work is not equally small. Ancillary equipment including (but not limited to) a stable power supply, cold-chain storage, reagent/consumables storage and transport, computational capacity, a stable workbench, biohazard waste disposal strategies, biosafety equipment, and other logistics – all necessary for the effective use of the full complement of modern, hand-held genomics hardware – are capable of growing the operational footprint of these devices to sizes that are not reasonable to deploy at the point-of-need. MRIGlobal has developed a product to address this problem. This product is a purpose-built platform that provides all the necessary operational equipment in a human-centered laboratory-workbench design such that rapid, reproducible deployment of advanced genomic technologies to field-forward locations is no longer strategically unfeasible.
Mercury Lab has the following features built into its rolling-case-based platform;
• Pure Sine Wave AC/DC Inverter and hash filtering to safely power third-party,
hand-held genomic hardware (e.g., MinION nanopore sequencer) and
accompanying computational equipment directly off of widely available 12V
battery supply***, or directly from grid-based power, if available. System can accept input of solar energy from third-party solar energy capture devices for 12V battery re-charge. DPST system shutdown switch. Integrated battery monitor advises on available charge.
• Two (2) U.S. standard 120V power outlets (or optional 230V E.U. configuration) and two (2) USB 3.0 outlets (power only -- in addition to data outlets from NUC).
• TSA-Approved Locking Mechanism
• Oversized 4” wheels (with internal axle) for travel on bumpy city sidewalks & field terrain
• Integrated computational architecture to support real-time basecalling and
bioinformatics analysis of generated sequencing data.
o Intel NUC8i7HNK1 with 64 GB DDR4 RAM and 2 TB PCI.e M.2 SSD
o NVIDIA Quadro RTX4000 GPU with 2,304 CUDA cores
o LTE connectivity for remote cloud access (not required for onboard analytics)
o Windows or Linux OS compatible
o Bluetooth-enabled keyboard/mouse and USB-powered display monitor
o MRIGlobal's PanGIA metagenomics classification GUI pre-installed
• Convenient, customizable workbench storage for easy, ergonomic access of routinely-used items -- enclosed in a removable soft-sided backpack.
• User-selected 4 L CREDO Cube cold-chain storage option for samples, reagents and other consumables ( 4°C or -20°C --- field-stable for up to 96 hours )
• Ergonomic, stowable, sterilizable fold-out workbench that securely locks into place
o 6 square feet of workspace
o Windshield for protecting samples from wind-blown contaminants
o LED lightbar for workbench illumination in low-light conditions
o Spill containment features
Applicability to #COVID-19 Response –
Real-time, genomic tracking of viral pathogens allows the ability to understand the interconnectedness of outbreak clusters through phylogenetic comparisons, and visualize how a pathogen is moving through a population. If viral genomes from many cases in a particular area all look identical, one can make a reasonable assumption that there is localized transmission of an initial seeding case, rather than multiple introductions from several locations (which one could reasonably assume if there was significant divergence in the viruses circulating in a small area). This data can feed into more accurate epidemiological models, which, in turn, can identify optimal containment strategies while minimizing regional economic instability. Additionally, understanding the evolution of amino acid utilization and protein-product divergence will provide the data that vaccine-design teams will rely on for on-going surveillance of vaccine efficacy.
A primary barrier to implementing such a program is the lag between sample collection
and the subsequent availability of the genomic data. Samples need to be collected,
transported to a central reference laboratory (CRL) for sample preparation and
sequencing, and raw data needs to be transferred to subject matter experts for
processing and analysis – all before actionable intelligence can be derived. Particularly
during outbreak conditions, already-busy CRLs can become overwhelmed with an influx
of samples for diagnostics. This creates a bottleneck that causes further delay in
realistic implementation of real-time genomic epidemiology.
Rather than requiring all possible COVID-19 infected samples be transported to, and
processed through, the nearest regional CRL, we propose a network of portable
Mercury Lab systems dispersed throughout a cluster population for on-site
determination of SARS-CoV-2 presence (via qPCR on the hand-held Franklin device***
from Biomeme), and, if present, real-time viral sequencing, assembly, and analysis at the
point-of-collection using the MinION***. Complete, or near-complete genomes could be generated with Mercury Lab’s onboard bioinformatics systems, and uploaded in near real-time (via Mercury’s LTE connectivity, or Wi-Fi if available) to public, open-source viral phylogeny platforms (e.g., NextStrain). Such a network would dramatically reduce the time and coordination complexity of generating genome-based intelligence on COVID-19, and would reduce the burden on central reference laboratories such that they can focus on the more urgent task of high-throughput diagnostics on an exponentially increasing number of patient samples.
An inventory of 25 commercial units are currently available for purchase. MRIGlobal stands ready to implement this product at the behest of relevant biosecurity and public health stakeholders, both in the U.S. as well as vulnerable populations in resource-limited areas overseas. As more units come online, they can be coordinated with ongoing efforts to maximize coverage of a particular area, or be sent ahead to areas that models identify as having increased vulnerability.
Please visit https://www.mriglobal.org/mercury/ to get a quote, and reserve your ultra-mobile laboratory units today.
***ONT and Biomeme products, as well as 12V battery supply, sold separately.