The greedy empiricist

It was the winter of 2010, early in my career as a scientist, when I first questioned my approach to the scientific method. I was a fermentation technician and my education up to that point had been firmly focused on univariate experiments. Disappointingly, the data I was generating was often conflicting. I have come to understand that mine was not an appropriate education for studying complex biological systems but is nonetheless commonplace!

I loved fermentation science which is a multidisciplinary empirical approach to understanding and engineering biology. It facilitated me working directly with molecular biologists, purification scientists, analytical chemists and statisticians. Collaboration gave me an appreciation of the different challenges and indeed techniques employed to meet these challenges. I wanted to do everything, not a completely unreasonable desire when trying to understand a living system; questions like “how will that impact this within context A” really expand your research space quite rapidly.

As my education continued, the requirement to use multivariate statistical methodologies to design experiments which were capable of evaluating complex and often noisy biological systems became clear. It was my PhD, beginning in 2012, where I felt free to explore my convictions about changing my approach to the scientific method. My research utilised a model yeast system where much literature had been reported but had failed to use multivariate methods during experimentation. The subsequent insight of the models that I produced (using a Design of Experiments methodology) were a revelation; providing detail around interactions of the isozymes and the impact of the environment on the metabolic pathway I was studying. This innovation had provided an empirical methodology applicable to both the design and analysis of experiments, that would now be central to the way I would conduct my research.

I was very pleased with the results of my research, however, I was finding myself constraining my experimentation, and therefore my understanding, to what I could physically perform and keep track of. I became the greedy empiricist, wanting more!

I am now part of the interdisciplinary team at Synthace, a team that share my ideals around the scientific method and a company that provides Antha: a unique operating system and language specifically developed to bring end-to-end digitisation to biotechnology. In the field of bioprocessing, we are combining the dynamic sampling capabilities from single-use bioreactor systems, such as that of the Sartorius ambr®250, with the automated sample processing capabilities of Antha. Antha OS is now my interface with a multitude of lab equipment for liquid handling and analytics, recording the provenance of every sample, from its origin to the resulting analytical data sets. It permits dynamic data visualisation and analysis allowing me to get rapid insights into the characteristics of my fermentation runs, from any part of the design space I have investigated.

Antha is the key to letting me have more!