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Illustration of lab robots for article on microbiology lab automation.
Published On: April 26th, 2022

Automation in microbiology offers very distinct benefits: first, laboratory robotics and automation provide accuracy and efficiency, which is a benefit when many samples must be analyzed. However, there has also been a lack of staffing within the past several years. As of 2018, it was estimated that 17.4 percent of laboratory staff was expected to retire in the next five years, and we’re almost to 2023. Also, the current lab vacancy rate as of 2018 was over 10 percent. The lack of skilled labor is not expected to change, making lab automation solutions a must for microbiology laboratories. Read on to learn about automation in microbiology and the available different applications.

Automation in Microbiology: The Processing of Specimens

One of the essential tasks in a lab is processing specimens. The use of calibrated pipettes allows technicians to employ many samples, or a single pipette can be tested. Also, multiple culture plates can be processed simultaneously, using myriad patterns. In some applications, a dual-dye ratiometric photometry system fosters the highest accuracy when it comes to results.

A multichannel verification system (MVS) is an automated mobile workstation that offers calibration, verification, and optimization of liquid handling applications. In fact, the MVS can handle pipettes up to 384-channels in less than 10 minutes. These types of advances in automation in microbiology for liquid handling offer accurate, precise results while needing less technicians to perform the work.

Automation in Biology: Incubation of Culture Media Plates

Total lab automation (TLA) can process clinical specimens and the imaging and incubation of culture plates.

With automation, the incubation of specimens is performed using calibrated metallic loops with a defined streaking pattern. Inoculated media are then transferred to incubators with the use of conveyors.

These advances allow certain steps to be skipped, formerly using labor. For example, there is no more batch processing of specimens or creating manual worklists. Another benefit of TLA in imaging and incubation of culture plates is that technicians handle the specimens less often, making the process safer.

Automation in Biology: Workup of Media Plates

Imaging and workup of media plates is imperative for antimicrobial susceptibility testing (AST) and processing of cultures for identification (ID). These processes must commence at the same time imaging is performed. Automation in microbiology concerning the workup of media plates will require some significant changes in the lab. More particularly, it removes inefficiencies and inaccuracies. Without automation, work is distributed among technicians unevenly, and there is a failing in checks and balances regarding the quality of work.

Automation in Biology: Different Types of Equipment

There are different types of equipment that the microbiology lab will need to achieve TLA. Of course, every lab will have different needs. While this is not a complete list, some different types of automation machines/equipment are as follows:

  • Autoclaves
  • Colony counters
  • Anaerobic chambers
  • Liquid dispensers
  • ELISA
  • Lab blenders
  • Gravimetric diluters
  • Media preparators
  • Peristaltic pumps
  • Spiral plating 

A worry of some microbiology laboratories is the cost of full automation. Yes, automation machines will require an upfront cost. However, Thomson and McElvania refuted a loss of profit theory. As part of their experiment, they found that automation reduced the staff required to workup and process cultures.

They also performed fewer subcultures and increased the number of specimens evaluated by each technician using automation in microbiology.

What were the results? They originally projected an ROI in five years; however with TLA, the lab saw an ROI within three years. Bottom line? Automation is more efficient and accurate and can offer a significant return on investment in just a few years’ time.

Hudson Robotics has been the leading supplier of automated products for over 38 years. To learn more on how your lab can benefit from the automation in microbiology, speak to a representative today!