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How It All Started

By Judy Pickering

Four years into our 40-year marriage, I can recall Michael saying “I know I can improve amino acid analysis” with such enthusiasm it could only mean big things.  He’d finished up his second post-doc and was working in industry – a startling contrast, to be sure, but moving every year was increasingly difficult with our growing family.  So, we settled in the Bay Area permanently and he started first with Durham Instruments and then worked for Spectra Physics.  At the time, amino acid analysis was taking chemists on the order of 12 hours per run!  Reducing the run time to three hours was only the first of many developments Michael had up his sleeve. 

Within the year, Michael left his job to start Pickering Laboratories with our flagship product: Trione®, our ninhydrin reagent.  The first bottles were sent out to industry experts for evaluation, and became our ambassadors carrying with them our hope of building a successful business.  I remember it was important to Michael for the bottles of Trione® to ship upright, because he thought of them as little soldiers marching off to the marketplace to do the job of defending his reputation and building our brand.

The early days of the business were challenging.  Michael did all the phases of production, taking orders as well as all of the manufacturing, packaging and shipping.  He even “hired” our two older kids to wash the bottles sometimes.  I was working in corporate marketing at the time, so I would attend trade shows and help Michael network with potential customers.  We didn’t want people to know we were such a small company, so I used my maiden name to give the appearance I was an employee instead of his wife!

Michael at One of Our Early Booths.

When Michael would talk to chemists about Trione®, they would get so excited about this breakthrough reagent for amino acids analysis.  We were always grateful so many people offered their advice and counsel just to help the enterprise along.  It was rough-and-tumble for the first year or two, and every encouraging word helped keep us going.

Customer orders began building momentum, and Michael and I breathed a sigh of relief!  Michael hired an additional 3-4 people on staff and I quit my job to help with administrative duties and expanding our marketing efforts.  He determined there was demand for a post-column derivatization instrument, and the PCX5000 was born.  Our earliest foray into instrumentation came as a benchtop kit, with standalone components including a pump, mixing system and reactor. Michael initially didn’t want Pickering Labs to be an instrument company, but we found that the instruments were needed to support the sale of our Trione® reagent and also the growing family of buffers we were selling.

Michael and Our Oldest Daughter in Front of Our First Building.

Michael’s reputation for post-column expertise began gaining attention from other chemists whose applications were post-column but not amino acid analysis.  As a result, Michael began to explore these other industries’ post-column needs.  And when he developed Pickering’s OPA-reagent-based products for analysis of Carbamates and Glyphosate, he entered into the world of environmental testing and began working with EPA methods.  Chemists who had previously been making their own eluents by following the EPA methods could now buy Michael’s ready-to-use buffers and purified reagents instead.  And they kept reordering because of the quality and reproducibility that Michael’s chemistry delivered. He would even say that he would “guarantee the chromatogram” to any chemist using his products, which was unprecedented. 

With the administrative/office duties securely staffed and the business looking more and more like a successful enterprise, I stepped back into a part-time role and focused on marketing.  As our family expanded, my time also became more occupied at home (our two youngest daughters were born in the mid-80’s).  By the end of the eighties, Michael was ready to hire additional staff to manage the business so he could really focus on his true passion: research and product development. 

In fact, as I think about that time, the early nineties are when the company really started to take shape in its modern form.  Michael added then-Operations-Manager Jim Murphy to manage the business in 1991 (Jim is our current President) and shifted fully into a technical role.  They also hired a full-time marketing manager, and so I went to work soon thereafter for the Palo Alto school district. 

Michael and his team evolved the PCX5000 standalone kit into the PCX3100 and PCX5100, our first fully-integrated post-column derivatization instruments.  Michael also developed more post-column applications with the collaboration of EPA, FDA, AOAC and CDFA, all of which further expanded our chemistries and columns offered.  Which in turn cemented our customer base and reputation for making the post-column instruments.  The business experienced steady growth, and the PCX3100 and PCX5100 sold well and supported our chemistry sales exactly as we’d envisioned.

Pickering Labs celebrating its 35th anniversary is a wonderful chance for me to reflect on working so closely with Michael during the first ten years of the business.  And I’d like to use our newsletter as an opportunity to introduce myself, or reintroduce myself to our long-time customers.  After my retirement from the school district, I began getting involved in the business again and joined the Board of Directors in 2014.  My work with the Pickering team behind the scenes isn’t very visibile to our customers, but I hope this gives us an opportunity to remember Michael together and that you enjoy my fond recollections (and new perspective?) of how Pickering Labs began.

Michael and Judy Pickering,
Back When It All Started.

Pickering Labs Celebrates 35 Years!


     

Thank you for being our customer and we hope you enjoy these fantastic photos. Our employees had a lot of fun digging through their old scrapbooks to help create this blast from the past!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Legacy of Collaboration between Pickering Laboratories and AOAC International

In the field of analytical chemistry, one of the important industry standards organizations is The Association of Analytical Communities – AOAC international. Founded in 1884, the organization has since developed and validated analytical methods for agriculture, pharmaceuticals, foods and other products for the United States and internationally.

Pickering Laboratories began its collaboration with AOAC almost 30 years ago with the introduction of EPA official methods for Carbamates and Glyphosate analysis in water based on post-column derivatization. Our company organized workshops and training sessions to help implement these methods in government and private labs. Pickering Laboratories also started manufacturing reagents and other consumables for Carbamates and Glyphosate analysis methods so testing laboratories could have confidence in the quality and reproducibility of the solutions and save valuable time by avoiding making small batches themselves.

“Michael Pickering always supported the AOAC and the state labs in providing workshops and extensive support.”  Laszlo Torma, Former Director of the Montana Department of Agriculture Analytical Laboratory. Laszlo continues “Michael made many enduring friendships because of his very personable and expert guidance.”

Pickering Laboratories was invited to present workshops at many of the AOAC regional section meetings. At the Midwest AOAC, Pickering Laboratories organized workshops for Amino Acids Analysis and Multi-Residue Mycotoxins Analysis in foods. At the Pacific Northwest AOAC meeting, Pickering Laboratories presented a workshop on the Paralytic Shellfish Toxins Analysis with HPLC and post-column derivatization. This was one of the critical steps in the transition to requiring this new post-column method and replacing the mouse bio-assay for analysis of Paralytic Shellfish Toxins.

Pickering Laboratories has also participated in several multi-lab collaborative studies organized by AOAC and our chemists have published many method validations in the Journal of AOAC International. Our post-column method for Multi-Residue Mycotoxins Analysis was awarded the ‘Single Laboratory Validation of the Year’ distinction by AOAC in 2009.

AOAC continues its great work as a leading standards-developing organization by assembling Stakeholders Panels that consist of representatives from industry, testing laboratories, researchers and government organizations to determine the needs for new methods. Vetted chemists are invited to join Expert Review Panels, who evaluate these incoming new methods to determine they are scientifically sound, reproducible and rugged. Expert Review Panels make the final determine if the method can be granted an official AOAC method status.

Today, Pickering Laboratories continues our legacy of AOAC collaboration with Dr. Maria Ofitserova, our Senior Research Chemist, who is empaneled on several committees.

  • AOAC Stakeholder Panel on Dietary Supplements (SPDS)
  • AOAC Stakeholder Panel on Infant Formula and Adult Nutritionals (SPIFAN)
  • Expert review panel for SPIFAN

The futures for AOAC and Pickering Laboratories are both dependent on the collaboration of standards bodies and the industries that rely on them for the creation and validation of methods that enable the analyses required to keep our foods and drugs safe.

 

 

 

Chromatography Quiz #28

Chromatography Quiz #27: Only AMPA – Results

Pickering Laboratories would like to congratulate the winners of our last newsletter’s Glyphosate Quiz – Only AMPA: Mark Ritari from Anatek Labs, David Green from Pepperdine University, Jim Balk from Nebraska DHHS Public Health Environmental Laboratory, Maggie Larson from Cumberland Valley Analytical Services, Eric Fuehrer from Mid-Continent Testing Laboratories, Narjes Ghafoori from LA County Environmental Toxicology Lab, Tom Schneider from Suffolk County Water Authority, Karissa Scroggins from North Coast Laboratories, and Mark Murphy from EPA Region 8 Lab.

They have each won and will shortly receive: a Holiday Bakery Gift Tower! filled with a blissful assortment of melt-in-your mouth treats! These goodies will be oh-so hard to share. Enjoy the treats and best wishes for a merry holiday season!

Thank you all for your submissions! 

The correct answer to the Only AMPA Quiz:

There is a problem with reagent #1, the sodium hypochlorite reagent (in CB130). The problems could range from Pump 1 not pumping to no bleach being added. Bleach is required to convert Glyphosate to Glycine, which will react with OPA and Thiofluor. So, if no bleach is present, none of the Glyphosate will be able to react with the OPA and Thiofluor. Only AMPA will be free to react and fluoresce, and your chromatogram will be missing a peak!

Chromatography Quiz #28: 35th Anniversary Word Puzzle

Simply email your answer as well as your full contact information to Rebecca at rlsmith@pickeringlabs.com by January 15, 2018 in order to win.  You will receive email confirmation that your submission has been received.  The answer to the quiz and winner congratulations will be published in the next issue (to be anonymous, please notify Rebecca in submission). 
 

  

A R T I F I C I A L W N C V P
K E Z H I G J S I R O N E M I
Z O A J I B P G E I X C I A N
F I D E L O A Y T V T K T C N
T U G K Y B F A N O E Z D C A
O M D H R A R L R O Y R R E C
N I L I D I J W U H H S O B L
Y J E I P K Z Z Q O T T W E E
D L V S G L O R I A R A N R F
A A R A T E E R A S I I F A D
D E I J A S G Q P P O R W N L
P I C R K Y K I M X N A U C O
R  S A R X P C E A V E M X P W
A T I N A H Z D D R D B E B Z
X W O X A A Y H B E C X N F M
ANITA
ANTHONY
ARTIFICIAL
CRAIG
DAVID
DIANA
EDMUND
FIDEL
GABRIELA
GLORIA
JAY
JIM
MARIA
MIKE
PERSPIRATION
PINNACLE
REBECCA
SAJI
SAREETA
SEVERO
THIOFLUOR
TONY
TRIONE
VECTOR

Chromatography Quiz #27: Only AMPA

Chromatography Quiz #26: Shifting Retention Times – Carbamates — Results

Pickering Labs would like to congratulate the winners of our last newsletter’s Shifting Retention Times–Carbamates Quiz: David Green from Pepperdine University, Jeff Fan from Cumberland Valley Analytical Services, Karissa Scroggins from North Coast Laboratories, Jim Balk from Nebraska DHHS Public Health Environmental Laboratory, Narjes Ghafoori from LA County Agricultural Commissioner Weights & Measure Environmental Toxicology Lab, Tom Schneider from Suffolk County Water Authority, and Ms. Widchuda Meeim from Thailand Bureau of Quality Control of Livestock Products.

They have each won and will shortly receive a Williams Sonoma BBQ Tools Set! Included in a stainless-steel case for easy storage, these sleek grilling tools are perfect for those upcoming summer cookouts!

Congrats to our quiz winners and happy grilling!

Thank you all for your submissions! 

The correct answer to the Sifting Retention Times – Carbamate Quiz:

Leaking proportioning valve. The leaking proportioning valve improperly mixed the method gradient and didn’t have enough methanol which caused the analytes to elute late.

Chromatography Quiz #27: Only AMPA

What is causing the bad chromatography in the example below?  Simply email your answer as well as your full contact information to Rebecca at rlsmith@pickeringlabs.com by September 1, 2017 in order to win.  You will receive email confirmation that your submission has been received.  The answer to the quiz and winner congratulations will be published in the next issue (to be anonymous, please notify Rebecca in submission). 

Glyphosate Analysis – Only AMPA

Pinnacle or Vector PCX post-column instrument is being used, in a traditional HPLC setup as recommended by Pickering Laboratories. The quiz question: what is causing Glyphosate to disappear?  

Post-column conditions for carbamates analysis:

Reagent 1: GA116
Reagent 2: o-Phthalaldehyde and Thiofluor in GA104
Reactor: 36 °C, 0.5 mL
Reagent flow rate: 0.3 mL/min
Injection volume: 10uL

FLD Settings:

λex 330 nm
λem 465 nm

HPLC Flowrate: 0.4 mL/min
Column Temperature: 55°C


 

Good Chromatogram

Glyphosate Test Mix, 2.5ppm, 10µl Injection

Bad Chromatogram only shows AMPA peak. No Glyphosate peak can be detected.

Glyphosate Test Mix, 2.5ppm, 10µl Injection

 

Glyphosate Testing Updates

1-cornBack in May, we reported on new developments in food testing and the beginning of FDA (Food and Drug Administration) participation in testing for Glyphosate residues in food.  This new FDA directive was in line with growing international concern over the safety of Glyphosate, and increased domestic pressure from consumer groups, academics and testing laboratories.  Pickering Laboratories has been excited to assist our Glyphosate-testing environmental customers with learning the new food matrices, and our food testing customers with learning a new Glyphosate application.

During the September 2016 AOAC International meeting in Dallas, Pickering Laboratories presented an improved post-column method for Glyphosate analysis in foods with simplified sample preparation procedure. This method was successfully applied to Glyphosate analysis in oats, wheat flour, eggs, milk, soybeans, corn and beer. The method is capable of analyzing Glyphosate at levels well below legal limits with high precision and accuracy. Our poster generated a lot of interest among AOAC meeting attendees. We received inquiries from laboratories doing pesticides testing as well as other attendees who, despite not being involved in Glyphosate analysis, expressed concerns at the indications of presence of Glyphosate in common foods, especially cereals. A copy of our application note can be found on our webpage.

Legal tolerances for Glyphosate vary widely from country to country. For example, the limits for oatmeal range from 0.1 ppm in Australia to 15-20 ppm in Canada, Europe and United States. In May 2016, Taiwan recalled close to 62,000 kg of Quakers Oats products due to Glyphosate contamination with up to 1.8 ppm present. Other reports also indicate that Glyphosate contamination of oat-containing and wheat-containing cereals is commonly found at levels close to and above 1 ppm. These findings are not surprising considering prevalence of Glyphosate use as a pre-harvest desiccant for many crops (including oats and wheat). Though 1-2 ppm levels of Glyphosate are well below the legal tolerances within the United States, the amount of cereals commonly consumed by people, including young children, range from 50-100 grams per day. Those quantities easily bring a person’s daily exposure to Glyphosate to almost 0.2 mg, and that is just from breakfast.

In light of mounting evidence of the pervasive presence of low levels of Glyphosate in a wide variety of common foods, we find it unfortunate that the FDA reportedly has halted the testing of Glyphosate in food products, citing the need to develop consistent methods amongst the different FDA laboratories. On the other hand, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) reported proposing to extend their pesticide residue monitoring program, with special attention to Glyphosate monitoring, including mandatory analysis of Glyphosate in crops such as soy beans, rapeseeds (Canola) and barley. We certainly hope the FDA would follow suit and Glyphosate food testing will soon resume. We believe Pickering Laboratories’ method would be a perfect candidate for the Glyphosate monitoring program.

Random Tangent – African Safari Edition!

By Michael Pickering

My wife and I had the great pleasure of traveling to Kenya this year for a couple of weeks.  As Judy and her friend (our traveling companion) are both avid photographers, we’ve got some spectacular pictures to share.  Everyone at Pickering Labs has enjoyed the stories and photos, and I am hoping that you’ll find them entertaining as well.

Judy and I visited five conservancies in total while we were in Kenya, traveling around for the better part of three weeks.  As such, we have thousands of animal photos to share, which I am told is a bit too many for the Pickering Labs webpage.  So, Judy has helped me select several choices for public consumption and we have included links to the places we have traveled for more information than I will detail here.

In Nairobi, we first visited the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.  This conservancy focuses on the protection and preservation of elephants and rhinos.  We were able to visit with orphaned elephants, and even saw that the baby elephants learn to bottle-feed themselves during their fostering!  In the second picture below, you can see me posing with Mbegu, the orphaned elephant we “adopted” during our visit.  She came to the conservancy at a very young age and injured, but we are happy to report she has made a full recovery and is thriving in her new community of orphaned elephants and their faithful and hardworking keepers.

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From Nairobi we continued north to Sambaru, where we were able to see a lot of African wildlife!  We watched elephants drinking from wells that the local people maintain for both themselves and the wildlife.  We also saw Grevy zebra (an endangered species) and cheetas when we visited the Lewa Wilderness Camp.  In addition to staying in the lodge, we also visited some of the 62,000 acres of conserved lands there.

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Lewa lands are home to over 70 different animal species and 350 different bird species.  Lewa is particularly famous as a leading rhino sanctuary, so I wanted to share a photo of the Black Rhino with you.  We also learned that of the 3,000 Grevy zebra remaining worldwide, a full 20% make their home on this conservancy.  The birds we spotted onsite were spectacular!  Here is a picture of the lilac-breasted roller and a pair of crowned cranes for your enjoyment.

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Inspired by the multitudes of birds surrounding us, I was also eager to take flight!  Lewa has an amazing biplane, and although Judy remained earthbound, I was able to take a ride in the skies and view the wildlife from a whole new vantage point!  The biplane experience came complete with the classy attire necessary to remain comfortable during the ride, much to my wife’s delight.

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We travelled to a Maasai village and the local warriors performed traditional dancing to welcome me to their village.  You can see in the photo below how incredibly high they jump!  Judy has video of this dancing, and my attempts to join in on the fun, but there are some visuals best left to the imagination.  Let’s just say that when Judy tells this story at the lab, everyone is cracking up by the time she’s done.

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From there, we crossed the equator and visited Ol Pejeta Conversancy and saw lions and warthogs pictured above.  Ol Pejeta is the largest Black Rhino conservancy in East Africa, with 108 Black Rhinos on site.  We also visited their Endangered Species Enclosure and below you will see a picture of me meeting the last male Northern White Rhino on the planet. 

Cmp17soloonsidered extinct in the wild, the last three Northern White Rhinos are protected at Ol Pejeta, where they are kept under 24-hour armed guard and enjoy a 700-arce enclosure.  Unfortunately, breeding efforts have proven unsuccessful – it has been determined that the females, Fatu and Najin, are unable to naturally reproduce.  Sudan, the 43-year old male in the picture, is an older fellow and his sperm count is pretty low…  But there is hope that artificially-assisted reproduction is a possibility and the Northern White Rhino subspecies can be saved from complete extinction.  This is an international effort, and you can learn more about the efforts taking place right here in California on the San Diego Zoo’s webpage

From Ol Pejeta, we flew to the Masai Mara Reserve, which is where the prey animals cross the Mara River.  Although the Wildebeest migration occurs between July-October, we missed the massive herds moving through.  Instead, we saw a whole lot of hippos!  You can see them below, and notice the baby sunbathing with mom!  We also took photos of more cheetahs and lions.  I won’t share those particular pictures, but these lions were definitely an actively mating pair!

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After Ol Pejeta, we traveled to our final stop at the Amboseli National Park.  We found the highlight of our time there to be the herds of Maasai giraffe.  Particularly fun was watching them drinking from a pond, as you can see in these pictures.

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mp23On our very last day in Kenya, we were treated to a rare treat.  I was sitting outside the lodge, soaking in the sights and sun, when I spotted movement at the edge of the lawn.  There was some distance of grass forming a manmade lawn, and from there a clear edge to more natural foliage, fallen leaf debris and assorted bush.  Running parallel to the lawn, I watched as something moved just exactly along the edge.  Of course I needed to evaluate from a closer distance, so I called to Judy to bring the camera and set out across the grass.  A snake!  How excellent!  By the time Judy arrived with the camera it had moved off some ways into the brush, but we were able to take enough pictures that, combined with my detailed descriptions, the lodge safari guide was able to find the snake in his book: a black-necked spitting cobra!  Truly a delightful find.