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Published On: May 24th, 2022Categories: Articles, Automation, Laboratory

Automated Thermal Cycler for PCR

With the development of new products, medicines, and technologies each day, laboratory managers are turning to automation—examples of laboratory automation range from liquid handling to analyzing microbe colonies. Automation increases throughput, reduces errors, and makes lab protocols easy to repeat. Curious about what modern labs are doing to automate processes? Read on to discover laboratory automation examples for chemistry, biology, and materials science labs.

Serial Dilution

One of the most popular lab automation solutions is automated pipetting for serial dilution. Serial dilution is popular with chemists and microbiologists alike. In this common lab procedure, a highly concentrated sample is diluted to a series of much weaker concentrations by repeatedly transferring and diluting the starting concentration. However, pipetting can be a slow and error-prone process, so many labs use an automated pipettor or liquid handling system. In addition, many liquid samples need to be diluted, an automated liquid handling system can save labs time and money. And the same automated pipettors that perform serial dilution can do many other liquid handling tasks; see below for examples.

Reagent Dispensing and Automated Liquid Handling

A second common application of automated liquid handling is reagent dispensing.

Automated reagent dispensers can do the job when a large volume of samples needs to be treated with one or more reagents.

Some tools can dispense multiple reagents simultaneously by using multiple dispense tips. Reagent dispensers are useful for accurately dispensing very small volumes of liquid. Automated reagent dispensers allow researchers to program priming intervals, which turns a hands-on process into a passive process that can occur when lab techs are not present. These dispensers can be used as standalone tools or be integrated into fully automated liquid handling systems.

Alternately, automated pipettors can do reagent dispensing as well, using a reagent reservoir to hold the reagent, and transferring the reagent to the appropriate microplate wells by aspirating and dispensing.

Colony Counting and Digital Colony Counting

Many microbiology experiments require an accurate count of the microbial colonies or colony-forming units (CFUs) on a plate. Manual colony counting is prone to human error since technicians can make different judgements about which colonies are distinct from others. Digital colony counters automate the process, enabling precise counts quickly.

Digital colony counters take images of plates then use image processing to determine the number of CFUs. One benefit of automated colony counting is that image processing algorithms can be updated over time to improve performance.

Colony Picking and Lab Automation

Colony picking is another colony-related lab automation example. After plating microbe colonies, researchers must isolate a singular colony and transfer that colony to a cell culture medium for growth for further studies. However, colony picking is susceptible to errors of human judgment. Automated colony picking reduces the error margin, increases throughput for biology labs and alleviates the tedium of picking colonies by hand.

PCR and PCR Robots

When PCR was first developed, DNA samples were moved between water baths at different temperatures. Now, thermal cyclers automate this process. Thermal cyclers quickly heat and cool PCR samples according to a heating schedule.

Some PCR robots include the ability to read barcodes from plates, adding plates as they become available, while maintaining the correct heating cycle for each plate. The demand for PCR tests has dramatically increased due to Covid-19 PCR testing, and automation can help labs meet the need for accurate, high-throughput PCR testing.

Getting Started with Laboratory Automation

These laboratory automation examples might have been inspiring. Chemistry labs, microbiology labs, clinical testing facilities, and pharmaceutical development sites can all benefit from automating routine procedures. Contact Hudson Robotics to discuss which automation equipment is the right fit for your lab.