History – LI-COR Biosciences

LI-COR History

LI-COR Headquarters in Lincoln, NE, USA

LI-COR Biosciences has been “Impacting Lives through Science” since 1971, and is a global leader in developing and marketing innovative, high quality instrument systems used in the fields of biological and environmental sciences, climatology, molecular biology, and translational research. LI-COR instruments, analysis software, and reagents are used in more than 100 countries, in studies ranging from global climate change to cancer research.

Building upon the strengths of its personnel, LI-COR has grown to include more than 330 employees at its headquarters in Lincoln, NE and subsidiaries in Bad Homburg, Germany and Cambridge, UK. LI-COR is a privately held company and is ISO 9001:2008 certified.

Some of the awards received by LI-COR include the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce Manufacturer of the Year Award, R&D 100 Award, Quantum Workplace Employee Voice Award for Exceptional Employee Engagement, Nebraska Exporter of Year Award, Frost and Sullivan New Product Award, 2015 Tibbetts Award, Rotary Club International’s Salute to Business Award, Nebraska Business Development Council Innovation Business of the Year Award, and the Governor’s Bioscience Award.

Early History

In the winter of 1967, Bill Biggs graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a B.S. degree in Engineering, and decided to continue on and pursue a Master’s Degree at UNL. Around this same time, the Rockefeller Foundation was funding various programs to develop grain sorghum as a food supplement in under-developed countries including Africa and India. The Foundation donated money to UNL as part of this program, which funded a number of scientists for a period of five years, and allowed UNL to sponsor a symposium at the Kellogg Center on UNL’s East Campus. Bill’s role in the sorghum project was to develop instrumentation related to photosynthesis in plants, in collaboration with five or six scientists at UNL. One of the instruments Bill designed – an accurate, inexpensive sensor and meter for measuring photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) – was described in an article in the journal Ecology. Shortly after the symposium ended, the UNL group began to receive requests for instrumentation from many of the scientists who had attended the symposium. In 1971, Bill Biggs co-founded Lambda Instruments Corporation to manufacture these sensors and other products. The name was formally changed to LI-COR, Inc. in 1978.

LI-COR building in 1973

Lambda Instruments building, 1973.

As LI-COR grew, the staff continued developing instruments to supplement the existing line of light sensors, porometers, spectroradiometers, and photosynthesis systems. The explosive growth in biotechnology research inspired LI-COR's early forays into DNA and gene sequencing technology. This led to the development of an additional product area and market in Biotechnology. While both of these product lines are distinct, they share one common element – measuring biological parameters based on the interaction between electromagnetic radiation and physical matter.

LI-COR Environmental

Light Measurement

Bill's Master's thesis consisted of developing a light meter, much of which was later incorporated into the LI-185 Quantum/Radiometer/Photometer (right) that LI-COR marketed in 1971.

At that time, light was measured primarily with foot candle meters; these meters were used by photographers and others, and measured light as the human eyes sees it (now measured with photometric sensors like LI-COR's LI-210R Photometric Sensor). This measurement was not particularly useful for measuring light that is important to plant growth, however, as much of the light (particularly in the green spectrum) is reflected by plants, and is not used for photosynthesis. A group of researchers at the University of Wisconsin were advocating measuring light in terms of photons, which is the amount of light per unit of time on a unit surface area. Glass filters were used to tailor the response of the sensor to the desired quantum response, (between 400 and 700nm), which is the area of the light spectrum used by plants. This was a revolutionary concept, and ultimately led to the development of the LI-190 Quantum Sensor introduced by LI-COR in 1972, and still sold today (as the LI-190R).

LI-COR currently manufactures a complete line of terrestrial and underwater radiation sensors, as well as data loggers and light meters, including the LI-250A Light Meter and LI-1500 Light Sensor Logger.

LI-185 Quantum/Radiometer/Photometer with terrestrial light sensors

Leaf Area Meters

LI-3000 Portable Area Meter

LI-3000 Portable Area Meter

In the early 1970's LI-COR began developing what would become a series of portable and laboratory leaf area meters. The first of these, the LI-3000 Portable Area Meter, was released in early 1974. The LI-3000 combined a readout console with a scanning head to provide for portable, non-destructive leaf area measurements. Leaf area, leaf length, average width, and maximum width were logged by the readout console as the scanning head was drawn over a leaf. The LI-3000 was unique, in that it was designed to use pulsed LEDs for the light source, and a photodiode array to give a 1 mm2 resolution. A Transparent Belt Conveyor, the LI-3050, was also designed to work with the LI-3000; both the LI-3000 and LI-3050 are still sold today (as the LI-3000C and LI-3050C).

To add to the leaf area meter product line, LI-COR had been contemplating a larger, laboratory grade area meter. In order to keep the instrument small enough to be practical, a camera lens and a series of mirrors was used to sense the object width. As leaves travel under the fluorescent light source, the image is reflected by a system of three mirrors onto the scanning camera. The object width is sensed by the camera lens, and the length is provided by the current frequency as related to the rate of travel of the belt. This unique system used in the first LI-3100 Area Meter (1976) is still largely unchanged in the current LI-3100C.

LAI-2000 Plant Canopy Analyzer

LAI-2000 Plant Canopy Analyzer

In 1987, another unique non-destructive leaf area instrument, the LAI-2000 Plant Canopy Analyzer, was released. The LAI-2000 computed leaf area index (LAI) and other canopy structure attributes from radiation measurements made with a "fish-eye" optical sensor. Measurements made above and below the canopy are used to determine the interception of light by the canopy at 5 zenith angles. LAI is then computed with these data using a model of radiative transfer in plant canopies.

The popular LAI-2000 was updated in 2010 and released as the LAI-2200, which incorporated wireless communication between the logging console and optical sensor(s). The current LAI-2200C (2013) added an integrated GPS module to determine solar position for light scattering corrections, and for mapping leaf area index for viewing on Google Earth.

Gas Exchange Instrumentation

In the early 1980s, as well, LI-COR developed a portable photosynthesis system. The prototype model, which was described as resembling a bagpipe, was among the first portable photosynthesis systems ever built, and led to the release of the LI-6000 Portable Photosynthesis System.

LI-COR scientists and engineers found innovative solutions to nearly all the technical challenges of building the instrument, but one problem remained: no company manufactured an infrared gas analyzer with the performance, reliability, and low cost required for a research quality photosynthesis system. LI-COR went to work developing its own infrared gas analyzer, which was used in the second-generation photosynthesis system – the LI-6200.

LI-6000 Portable Photosynthesis System

LI-6262 CO2/H2O Analyzer, LI-6251 CO2 Analyzer, and LI-6252 CO2 Analyzer

Because LI-COR developed an infrared gas analyzer that delivered higher performance at a lower cost than other commercially available CO2 analyzers at that time, the company made a few minor modifications, added a sensor housing and control panel, and marketed its first stand-alone CO2 analyzer, the LI-6251. This was the first-generation instrument in LI-COR's standard-setting line of infrared gas analyzers.

LI-6400 Portable Photosynthesis System

LI-6400 Portable Photosynthesis System

Building upon the success of the LI-6200, LI-COR developed the innovative LI-6400 Portable Photosynthesis System. In addition to providing scientists with a robust and reliable instrument, the LI-6400 was developed to support many novel and custom accessories, giving scientists the ability to measure numerous biological parameters that were previously unattainable. The LI-6400 (now the LI-6400XT) is the most cited photosynthesis system in published scientific journals.

LI-6800 Portable Photosynthesis System

The innovative new LI-6800 Portable Photosynthesis System was introduced in March, 2016, and delivers a new experience along with unprecedented capabilities for measuring gas exchange and fluorescence. Improved gas analyzer precision, light source uniformity, flow path design, environmental controls, and larger leaf areas—and many more design features—are coupled with a touch screen interface that provides real-time guidance from the instrument.

The LI-6800 sets a new global standard for gas exchange and fluorescence measurements in every aspect. A user experience built from the latest technological innovations—combined with integrated game-changing improvements in performance—yield the most advanced system on the market.

LI-7500 Open Path CO2/H2O Analyzer

LI-7500 Open Path CO2/H2O Analyzer

LI-COR infrared gas analyzers have rapidly become the world standard in atmospheric, ecological, and oceanographic research. The innovative LI-7500, an open path CO2/H2O analyzer, was introduced in 1999, and the high precision LI-7000 closed path CO2/H2O analyzer followed in 2000.

The LI-7500A, an updated version of the LI-7500, was introduced in 2010. The LI-7200, also introduced in 2010, is a compact, enclosed CO2/H2O analyzer that combines the benefits of open and closed path gas analyzers. It is an integrated system designed to provide measurements in harsh weather conditions and environments, with low power consumption. The LI-7500A and LI-7200 were updated in 2016 with improved performance, even under harsh, dirty conditions, and include the SmartFlux® System, which runs EddyPro® Software to compute final flux results as data are logged. The updated analyzers are now branded as the LI-7500RS and LI-7200RS.

Another versatile, innovative instrument, the LI-8100 Automated Soil CO2 Flux System, delivers highly accurate measurements of soil CO2 flux with minimal alteration of the natural soil microclimate. The system features chambers for making both short-term survey and long-term, unattended measurements. The LI-8100A, an updated, Ethernet-ready version of the LI-8100, was introduced in 2010.

In 2009, LI-COR introduced the world's first open path methane analyzer for eddy covariance studies, the LI-7700.

Eddy Covariance Systems

The eddy covariance technique is a widely used, accurate, and direct method for quantifying exchanges of carbon dioxide, water vapor, methane, various other gases, and energy between the surface of the earth and the atmosphere. LI-COR infrared gas analyzers are coupled with additional biological and meteorological sensors to measure flux over various surfaces, calculate the results, and process the data with LI-COR’s EddyPro® flux processing software, providing a complete solution for making flux measurements. And in 2015, a secure, on-line web service, FluxSuite™ Software, was introduced to provide real-time results and status information from single or multiple eddy covariance sites.

Today, LI-COR Environmental is a global leader in the design, manufacture, and marketing of high quality, innovative instrument systems for plant biology and environmental research. LI-COR has been in this field more than 45 years and its instruments are used worldwide in many environmental applications, including agronomy, ecology, plant physiology, plant pathology, carbon cycle studies, and climate change.

Eddy Covariance system, with LI-7200RS CO2/H2O Analyzer and LI-7700 Open Path Methane Analyzer

LI-COR Biotechnology

Recognizing the potential of infrared fluorescent dyes to improve reliability, accuracy, and performance of DNA sequencing instruments, LI-COR explored new applications of infrared dye detection.

The Model 4000 Automated DNA Sequencer garnered international attention when it was released in 1992. The 4000L Long Read DNA Sequencing System, introduced a year later, set global standards for long read lengths and accuracy.

Model 4000L Long Read DNA Sequencing System

In 2001, LI-COR released the Odyssey® Infrared Imaging System. The Odyssey delivers superior two-color Western blots with clear, sharp bands in a fraction of the time and cost of chemiluminescence, and features unprecedented direct detection for a variety of applications, including Western blots, In-Cell Western™ Assays, and protein and DNA gels.

The Model 4300 DNA Analysis System was introduced in 2003. The Model 4300 System included comprehensive application packages for DNA sequencing, Microsatellite analysis, AFLP® analysis, reverse genetics (TILLING®), and SNP discovery (Ecotilling).

The Aerius Automated Infrared Imaging System was released in 2004. It was designed to work with automated microplate stacking systems to automate infrared plate-based assays, such as In-Cell Western Assays.

Odyssey Infrared Imaging System

The Pearl® Small Animal Imager was released in 2008 (now Pearl Trilogy) and is used for near-infrared in vivo imaging. Using the Pearl Imager with optical agents from the BrightSite line of optical agents gives researchers the ability to track biological events and disease progression in living animals. This research is valuable for many areas, including apoptosis, angiogenesis, inflammation, and bone growth. The Pearl Trilogy was introduced in 2015, and added a third detection channel for those researchers interested in bioluminescence detection.

The Odyssey Fc Imaging System premiered in 2010 and offers quantitative Western blot analysis with both near-infrared (NIR) and chemiluminescent detection. It is similar to the original Odyssey in that it allows for NIR two-color scanning for simultaneous detection of two protein targets, or the use of one channel for normalization. The Odyssey Fc offers convenience to labs that use both NIR and chemiluminescent detection methods.

LI-COR also manufactures a diverse line of infrared reagents. IRDye® infrared dyes feature absorption and emission wavelengths in the near-infrared spectrum, between 680 and 800 nm. In 2010, LI-COR expanded its family of BrightSite™ optical agents for in vivo imaging with IRDye 800CW HA Optical Probe. This probe is useful for researchers looking to specifically target the lymphatic system, or tumor cells that over-express CD44 receptors.

LI-COR established a Translational Research group in 2010 to facilitate the use of its IRDye® 800CW labeled imaging agents in clinical studies for detection of disease, its progression, and for monitoring treatment and drug efficacy. IRDye 800CW has been conjugated to a variety of targeting agents by leading molecular imaging laboratories developing translatable agents.

The Odyssey CLx Infrared Imaging System was released in 2011. It is the next step in Odyssey infrared imaging technology, with a new AutoScan function that saves time and increases the available dynamic range to greater than six logs. The Odyssey CLx is the most flexible and multifunctional platform of all Odyssey imaging systems.

Odyssey CLx Infrared Imaging System

In early 2013 LI-COR debuted its latest innovation, the C-DiGit® Blot Scanner, an affordable digital replacement for traditional film-based methods of performing chemiluminescent Western blots. The C-DiGit Blot Scanner collects a single digital film image that contains a wide range of ‘exposures’ that represents all options that would be available with film.

C-DiGit® Blot Scanner

Over Forty-five Years of Excellence

Both the Biotechnology and Environmental product lines have diversified over time. LI-COR's expertise with visible and infrared technology has led to the development of numerous instruments and applications in biological research, expanding possibilities in studies of drug discovery and DNA fragment analysis. LI-COR's team of scientists and engineers continue to develop cutting edge instruments that provide researchers and scientists with the tools needed to make precise measurements in the world today.

LI-COR scientists and engineers are closely involved in the scientific community through extensive internal R&D, global collaborations with leading scientists, presentations at scientific conferences, workshops and seminars, and publishing in leading scientific journals. By maintaining close relationships with academic, governmental, and industrial research institutions, LI-COR develops products that are at the forefront of modern technology for research in the biological and environmental sciences. LI-COR customers are committed to conducting excellent research, and the company’s mission is to facilitate this research by providing high-quality system solutions and superior, personalized customer support.

The LI-COR Board of Directors would like to take this opportunity to return thanks to God for His merciful providence in allowing LI-COR to develop and commercialize products, through the collective effort of dedicated employees that enable the examination of the wonders of His works. "Trust in the LORD with all your heart; and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight." Proverbs 3:5, 6