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Market profile: amino acid analyzers.

In the traditional method for breaking down proteins for amino acid analysis, the protein or peptide sample is first hydrolyzed in a vacuum or inert atmosphere. A stepped gradient of buffers elutes the sample (modern analyzers make use of a continuous gradient) which then passes through a resin-packed ion-exchange column. The reagent ninhydrin is applied and the resulting reaction turns the primary amino acids a bluish color and the secondary amino acids brownish-yellow.

The ramifications of this automated technique, which was first pioneered by Nobel laureates Stanford Moore and William Stein in 1958, have influenced research in areas ranging from the nutritional analysis of animal feed, to the assurance of quality control in pharmaceuticals, to the detection of human amino acid deficiency disorders. For their function in maintaining high manufacturing standards, analyzers play a significant role for food producers. By testing specific amino acid profiles in fruit juice, for instance, scientists are able to determine not only the origin of the fruit and the conditions in which it was processed, but also the climate in which the fruit grew and how ripe it was when squeezed. In dairy products, analyzers can detect the presence of unwelcome protein compounds, and, as a result, can help verify the purity of a batch of milk. Aside from protecting freshness, a thorough analysis can guarantee the safety of products that are particularly susceptible to contamination and for which consumers demand the highest degree of reliability, such as baby formula.

Because of their value to a variety of industries, dedicated amino acid analyzers enjoy a stable clientele. Although the market remains largely dedicated to service and replacement, periodic upgrades have contributed to an estimated double-digit growth in recent years. As a result, IBO estimates the market to be in the $10 million to $15 million range. In fact, in the last year alone, aminoSys, which was founded in 1999 and whose specialty is protein analysis, and Biochrom, a subsidiary of Harvard Bioscience, have released new models: the Amino Acid Analyzator A200 and the Biochrom 30, respectively.

The A200, which represents aminoSys' latest foray into the analyzer market, offers a redesigned eluent rack that monitors each bottle with electro-optics and doesn't require the addition of inert gases. Biochrom extended its expertise in the area when it bought the German amino acid analyzer maker Biotronik from Eppendorf in 2000. Like the A200, the Biochrom 30 incorporates technological refinements into the classic design. Ceramic pump heads and retooled valves resist wear from high-pressure operation, and an updated analysis software and ergonomic configuration make the machine more accessible. Hitachi, which introduced its L-8800 Amino Acid Analyzer in the late 1990s, has manufactured over 1,800 analyzers throughout its more than 35 years in the business.

Thanks to improved technology, analyzers have become dramatically more efficient since their introduction; the same process that could take up to 24 hours to complete in the era of Moore and Stein can now be wrapped up in a mere 20 minutes. Although some companies sell devices that enable ordinary high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) instruments to separate amino acids, dedicated analyzers hold important advantages over their HPLC counterparts. For one, the dedicated instruments can more accurately reproduce results and are less vulnerable to interference. Also, reagents used to highlight aminos are harsh and can damage systems not designed to handle them.
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Publication:Instrument Business Outlook
Date:Apr 15, 2003
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