Before advances in automation, samples had to be screened and tested by hand. Not only was this an inefficient way to process samples, the work hours alone required to perform colony picking or other applications could take hours, even days, to process a small amount of samples. However, with the advent of high-throughput screening.
Instead of inefficient use of time and labor, today, laboratory automation has made it possible to process thousands to millions of samples. This high-throughput screening allows for testing of biological activity at several different levels: cellular, pathway, model organism, or molecular levels. While there are some challenges in colony picking, and automation is not a good fit for every application type, colony-picking robots are a significant part of increased efficiency in laboratories. Read on to learn more about high-throughput screening (HTS) and how colony-picking robots increase efficiency.
High-throughput Screening: Why Automate?
Laboratory automation and automated colony pickers have been staples in microbiology laboratories for years, but the question still remains: why automate?
Simply put, it increases efficiency. The number of labor hours plus technicians in the lab used for manual colony picking (picking done by hand) is not cost-effective. In many cases, technicians highly familiar with robotic systems and high-throughput screening can operate automated systems themselves or with a small staff.
However, the choice is only sometimes to automate first. Scientists and researchers want to get a better sense. Oliver Griesbeck, a research group leader at the Max-Planck-Institute of Neurobiology, says, “Often data from several hundred plates may be processed before a pick decision is made.” He also refers to automated colony-picking as “optional,” but automation is the most commonly used method in any laboratory.
High-throughput Screening and Applications
HTS is needed for many different types of applications throughout microbiology and other sciences. One application of colony picking (manual or automated) is microbial screening. Scientists and researchers will look for unprecedented behavior in certain organisms. In synthetic biology (syn-bio), this high-throughput screening method is used to create new types of foods, aid in pharmaceutical development, and more.
Other applications of high-throughput screening include
- Two-hybrid assay
- Fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET)
- Affinity purification
- Fluorescence polarization (FP)
Another advantage of using HTS is that processes are still functional even if the structure of the target protein is unknown. However, there can be some additional challenges with colony picking and high-throughput screening. While HTS can crank out upward of 10,000 compounds per day, it does have the capability to produce many false positives, which can be a drawback. The cornerstone of HTS is efficiency. However, this is not true in every case – it can just be a potential drawback.
How Do Automated Colony Pickers Work?
It’s important to note that it’s one of the current 2023 trends in colony picking to adapt robots to an HTS output. This is important because, while HTS can make some formidable errors, colony-picking robots operating normally make very few errors, which is one of their benefits. Most automated colony-picking machines also contain multiple pins and are equipped with robots to select bacterial colonies according to specific colony morphologies. Colony pickers make very few mistakes because of their advanced imaging systems.
Today’s automated colony pickers can pick up to 2,500 colonies per hour and can also catch misses and double picks, which were common human errors when manual colony picking was more in practice. High-throughput colony picking, while it requires an initial investment, was a very cost-effective addition to liquid handling laboratories in a 2009 report published in SLAS Technology.
Are you interested in automated colony-picking protocols and systems? Contact us and we’ll guide you on what would work best in your laboratory.