Lab automation has skyrocketed since the first fully automated lab was established in the 1980s. Though most prominent in pharmaceutical and medical testing labs, automation has been consistently growing in other industrial and research laboratories, including in food science, agriculture, and environmental analytical labs.Liquid handling technology, in particular, has experienced several upgrades over the years. For example, long past are the days of inaccurate and potentially dangerous mouth-pipetting, thanks to the development of the fixed-volume, handheld manual pipettor by Heinrich Schnitger (patented in 1961) and the adjustable-volume pipettor by Warren Gilson (patented in 1974).
Since then, further advancements in the 1980s led to fully automated pipettors that offered additional accuracy, safety, speed, and lab throughput. In the 21st century, several liquid handling instruments are available to fit most labs’ needs. Read on to learn more about available options in modern-day liquid handling technology!
Benefits of Laboratory Automation
Laboratory automation is an efficient way to maximize work throughput. By optimizing automation in the lab, scientists reduce their time performing repetitive tasks, thereby focusing their attention on more specialized tasks. Furthermore, by using automated products capable of complete remote control, scientists can still perform experiments and collect data while completely focusing on these more demanding tasks. They can even ensure work is completed overnight, on weekends, and on holidays!
Utilizing laboratory automation products further reduces human error, leading to skewed data analysis or product formation. Automation’s consistent and reliable nature allows scientists to obtain results that can be easily reproduced between repeated experiments and between collaborating laboratories. Furthermore, through laboratory automation software, automated products can be synchronized between instruments and easily overseen by a technician with minimal training.
Given the importance of pipetting liquids in several laboratory procedures, one of the simplest ways to automate lab environments is by incorporating liquid handling technology.
Robotic Liquid Handling Technology
Before considering how exactly labs benefit from liquid handling technology, we must first understand the available options.
Liquid handling robots include, but are not limited to:
- Single electronic pipettors
- Multi-channel electronic pipettors
- Multi-reagent dispensers
- Microplate washing systems
Liquid handling technology is best optimized by combining robotic arms and electronic pipettors. These instruments can then aspirate liquids by using an air or liquid filled syringe to draw up the liquids. Liquid handling robots are often designed either as their own free-standing instrumentation or incorporated as part of a multi-instrument workstation. With compact, robotic arms, automated pipettors can be altered between single, 8, and 12-channels and beyond.
Given that 96-well (and even 384-well) microplates are a common source of repetitive pipetting for many laboratory environments adding robotic pipettors to the lab can be especially advantageous. If only partial plates need to be filled, optimizing the single-channel dispenser allows the user to cherry-pick individual wells as needed. Flexible liquid handling technology with 8- and 12-channel dispensers is especially advantageous for quickly filling multiple microplates in a given time.
Liquid handling technology that speeds up pipetting and aspirating solutions from microplates doesn’t end with electronic pipettes. Additional liquid handling instruments specifically designed for microplates can perform common tasks often needed in experiments using microplates, such as highly repetitive microplate washing steps.
Workstations Utilizing Liquid Handling Technology
Modern liquid handling technology is not constrained to dispensing a single solution at a time. Instead, when multiple liquids are needed in a given procedure or technique, reagent dispensers capable of distributing most or all of these liquids can be taken advantage of. Laboratory automation software can then be used to coordinate the order and timing for dispensing and aspirating the liquids. This capability allows for full automation of some common laboratory procedures.
Given the universality of microplates in many experiments, labs can combine liquid handling technology with microplate handling systems to further increase efficiency and decrease the user’s hands-on time. For example, microplates can be stored in a microplate stacker, where software coordinates responses such as pipetting times, and microplate handlers which feed the microplates into additional instruments, such as plate readers, washers, and reagent dispensers.
Some laboratory experiments can be completely done within the confinement of microplates. For example, live-cell or bacterial cultures can be grown and either DNA, RNA, or proteins purified within these plates. The sub-cellular products can then be confirmed in a fluorescence microplate reader, or directly prepped for analysis. In particular, DNA can undergo PCR or sequencing, RNA can be used to measure gene expression via qPCR, or proteins can be investigated through an ELISA.
By combining microplate handling systems and liquid handling technology in a confined space and integrating the proper laboratory automation software, entire procedures can be entirely automated with little to no input from a human technician through a unified robotic workstation.
Hudson Robotics has been the leading supplier of laboratory automated products for over 38 years and can handle all your liquid handling needs. Speak to a representative today to find out how liquid handling technology can be incorporated into your lab!