Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
Environmental Sample Processor (ESP)
Putting an analytical laboratory in the sea

The Environmental Sample Processor (ESP)

2nd generation ESP core instrument in the laboratory

Divers and ESP in test tank

What is an Environmental Sample Processor?

The MBARI Environmental Sample Processor—the ESP—provides on-site (in situ) collection and analysis of water samples from the subsurface ocean. The instrument is an electromechanical/fluidic system designed to collect discrete water samples, concentrate microorganisms or particles, and automate application of molecular probes which identify microorganisms and their gene products. The ESP also archives samples so that further analyses may be done after the instrument is recovered.

Why build an ESP? Procedures for genetic identification of marine organisms and for clarifying their role in biogeochemical cycles, typically require collecting samples at sea and returning them to a fully equipped laboratory for individual analyses.To reduce time and costs, MBARI initiated the development of the Environmental Sample Processor (ESP), and new techniques to allow remote application of molecular probe technology. With the ESP, researchers will be able to conduct molecular biological analyses remotely, in real-time over a sustained period, and with interactive capability. The organisms will be analyzed, fresh from the sea, and in a timely manner and with significant reduction of costs. NASA's Astrobiology Science and Technology for Exploring the Planets program hopes to develop instruments to detect life in outer space and ESP is a candidate for this future use.

How does the ESP work?

Field Experiments





Probe Array Chemistry

  • DNA
  • Protein
  • Piezo

Sampling Modules

Analytical Modules


Partners in ESP development  


Last updated: Oct. 15, 2013