With the advent of automated bacteriology systems, it won’t be long before the majority of us are looking at digital images of agar plates as opposed to holding the plate in our hand.
But what about Gram stains, ZN stains etc?
A few weeks ago, whilst wandering around the exhibition hall at the ECCMID conference in Copenhagen, I stumbled across this piece of apparatus, called Metafer. This system can automatically feed stains onto the microscope platform, then create digital images at different magnifications and from different areas of the slide. It will even automatically add oil when required…
Not only that, but the company is also developing interpretative software for preliminary analysis of the stain. This seems to be most advanced at present for AFBs on ZN stains and the software will collate anything suspicious looking for an AFB on the slide and then display them as thumbnails on the screen for further checking/interpretation.
Such a system can now be interfaced with the advanced automation systems so that the digital images of the Gram stains can be viewed alongside the plate images.
The objectivity and standardisation of such a system is very appealing, along with the fact that the images can be stored indefinitely. Digital scanning and imaging of slides also has uses within the laboratory beyond microbiology.
I have no personal experience with using the Metafer platform or with the company that has developed it. There are probably other similar systems out there as well. However I imagine such systems will become commonplace over the next decade or so, and traditional “analogue” microscopes will soon die out…