Introduction

Flow cytometry is an extremely powerful technology that allows the individual measurement of physical and chemical characteristics of particles as they pass one by one through a light source. Flow sorting is a process that allows the physical separation of a cell or particle of interest from a heterogeneous population. If a population can be identified in an analytical cytometer, it may be retrieved using a flow sorter.

The history of flow cytometry can be traced back to the experiments of Andrew Moldavan (1), who in the 1930s designed a photoelectric cell apparatus to count individual cells flowing through a capillary tube mounted on a microscope stage. In 1953, Crosland-Taylor (2) used the principles of hydrodynamic focusing to center cells within a fluid stream and this still forms the basis of most modern flow cytometers. In the 1950s, Wallace Coulter (3) began the development of an instrument that could electronically calculate cell volume. These early cell analyzers were further developed by Fulwyler, Kamentsky, and their colleagues (4-6) and provided important biological information - principally cell size or volume, and DNA and protein content - in a wide range of cell types. The

From: Flow Cytometry: Principles and Applications Edited by: M. G. Macey © Humana Press Inc., Totowa, NJ

invention and refinement of ink-jet printers by Richard Sweet, at Stanford, (7) led to a way of retrieving specifically defined cells or particles for further study, and early sorters were developed from the close interactions at the time of biologists and engineers (8,9).

The development and early history of cell sorters is dealt with in several fascinating reviews (10-14). Early flow sorters were very much machines that were hand-made for a specific purpose, but the commercial potential of being able to sort cells was quickly realized, and mass-produced cell sorters became available in the early 1970s. Since then, they have become much more widely available and a valuable resource in the biomedical and other fields.

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