Thursday, October 15, 2009

Help save viral ecology (or, when a corporate takeover can kill a field of science)

Just got this an interesting email below from a friend and colleague, Eric Wommack at U. Delaware. In the email, Eric discusses how the recent purchase of Whatman by GE Helathcare has apparently wreaked havoc on the field of viral ecology. You see, a key tool in many studies of viruses in the field turns out to be filters with really small pore sizes to collect the viruses. And, alas, apparently, GE Healthcare has decided to end sales of the filters that a lot of viral ecology researchers use and cannot replace.

So a seemingly small decision by GE Healthcare could severely harm viral ecology work. Eric (and others) are encouraging researchers to write to GE Healthcare to ask them to reconsider the discontinuation of these filters. I encourage you to do so. A person to wrote to at GE is listed in the email below

I'm writing in hopes that you can help the viral ecology research field build a grass roots campaign to convince GE Healthcare to reverse its decision to discontinue manufacture of all 0.02 µm Anodisc filters. GE Healthcare recently acquired Whatman the sole manufacturer of these filters. Presently, 0.02 µm Anodiscs are the only means of collecting direct counts of free virus particles by epifluorescence microscopy. All other types of filter membranes with suitably small pore sizes (sub 30 nm) simply do no work. Viral direct counts are a baseline inventory measurement throughout the field and the loss of these filters will effectively shut down all cutting-edge viral ecology research productivity.

The official word from GE Healthcare is that the company will fill existing orders and then discontinue the entire product line as of December. According to an openly honest Whatman tech support worker, who was entirely sympathetic with our plight, this decision is entirely financial. The irony is that the company has an effective monopoly in this niche so those labs who absolutely rely on these filters would find a way to pay whatever is necessary to make the product financially viable. The tech support guy said that Whatman actually manufactures Anodisks, so unless another company steps forward to adopt the technology viral ecology research will grind to a crawl over the next couple of years. I know this scenario sounds dramatic, but I've seen a nearly complete work stoppage on three projects since the Anodisc supply dried up in July.

Please mail the letters to:
Navin Pathirana, Ph.D., CChem
Regional Product Manager
Whatman, Inc.
GE Healthcare Bio-Sciences Corp.*
800 Centennial Avenue***
Building 1*
Piscataway**, NJ 08855 USA***
Here are some PLOS Open Access papers using these filters
Here are some links to papers found in Google Scholar that have used these things:


  1. A similar thing happened to our lab when GIBCO BRL was bought out by Invitrogen. We used to buy specific plant cell culture media from GIBCO. The formulation was just right for our cell lines. Unfortunately, when Invitrogen took over they stopped production on all plant cell media. We were lucky, since our Invitrogen rep sold us 2 years worth of media for a song. But after that second year, we weren't able to find a replacement. It's still a problem for our research to this day.

  2. These filters are commonly used by oceanographers to separate soluble and colloidal forms of metals (especially iron) in seawater.

    Another field will be diminished by the loss of 0.02 filters...


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