Just the FACS

BIGOS@Beadle.Stanford.edu BIGOS at Beadle.Stanford.edu
Wed Aug 12 04:23:38 EST 1998

The discussion regarding the term "FACS" has been very interesting 
to us at the Stanford Shared FACS Facility, and it does raise a 
number of issues to which we would like to contribute.

First is the historical record. Len Herzenberg and his group here at 
Stanford, building on the work of Marv Van Dilla, Mack Fulwyler, Lou 
Kamentsky, Dick Sweet, and others, developed and demonstrated cell 
sorting based on fluorescence (Science, 1969). The acronym ³FACS² 
was not used then. Looking in the published record, "fluorescent 
cell sorter" was used by Len in "The Proceedings of an International 
Conference at Brook Lodge" (Academic Press, 1971). In 1972, 
"Fluorescence Activated Cell Sorting" was used by Bonner, et al 
(Rev. Sci. Instrum. 43: 404-409), although given the lag associated 
with publishing, the term and its obvious acronym were coined 
earlier and in common use (at least locally); this verified by Len 
and Dick Sweet. Becton Dickinson, in a joint project with Len's lab 
funded by the NIH, came out with the FACS I in late 1973. We do not 
know the date of their trademark, but it may have been registered as 
late as the end of the '70s or early '80s; it did not predate the 
1972 article.

So unlike "xerox" or "kleenex", the use of "FACS" occurred before 
the term was trademarked (or became closely associated with a 
commercial entity). Thus, use of it as a generic term to describe 
cell sorting based on fluorescence, as opposed to analysis, would be 

To return to the original question as to whether the use of the word 
"FACS" is appropriate terminology, we would look at the larger 
picture. Does the use of the acronym render the science in the 
article incorrect or confusing? If not, then let's move on and not 
validate the stereotype of academic nit-picking.

Lastly we would like to comment on the "MoFlo" vs. "FACS" ballyhoo. 
Both manufacturers (Cytomation & BD) use the same basic technology 
although there are some significant design differences. We have 
found uses for both in our core facility. Having the better design 
or technology, however, doesn't mean one wins out in the market-place; 
recall, for example, Beta vs. VHS. Many other factors, rational and 
irrational, will determine what the cytometry offerings exist five 
and ten years from now. We hope, however, that there are multiple 
sources of flow (and image!) cytometry equipment each competing with 
and learning from the others.

-Marty Bigos
-David Parks
-Dick Stovel

Stanford Shared FACS Facility

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