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Image of a metal robot for an article about what a colony picking robot is and how it functions.
Published On: December 29th, 2020

Picking bacterial colonies is necessary in many life science labs, especially as part of synthetic biology and protein expression workflows. However, when done manually, this process can be time-consuming. This is where colony picking tools such as colony picking robots are needed.

Colony picking robots are worthwhile investments for most labs; but first, what exactly are they? Read on for more information!

What Is a Colony Picking Robot?

A colony picking robot is an automated system capable of detecting targeted colonies, picking and inoculating them into growth media for cell culture purposes. While it is an entire system, it’s often referred to as a ‘robot’ as it has a robotic arm or moving robotic component, which is core to the colony picking process.

Colony picking robots and tools give labs an edge through massive productivity increases; the highest throughput models can pick more than 2,000 colonies an hour, which is more than a human can. If the other components of the workflow are also automated (i.e. the plasmid prep that comes after colony picking), labs can reduce the need for manpower, increase profits/productivity, and reduce cost in the long run.

How Does a Colony Picking Robot Work?

Individual colony picking robots will have different approaches, but in general, the steps for colony picking using a robot or system is as below:

  1. A staff member/researcher uses the system’s software to define the parameters and morphology of the targeted colonies. The colony picking robot moves microplates and agar plates into the right position.
  2. A camera within the system captures photos of the agar plates with the colonies on them. With predefined parameters, the system selects suitable colonies to be picked.
  3. The colonies are picked with a pin or multiple pins and inoculated into the prepared culture medium.
  4. Once all the picked colonies are inoculated, the microplates/test tubes are moved to the programmed storage area. The pins are washed and sterilized before the next round of picking begins again.

Using an automated bacterial/fungal colony picking tool does not only increase efficiency. Due to the strict programmed parameters that the system does not deviate from, using one tends to result in fewer errors and better results overall. The parameters researchers want to define can be updated anytime, too, within a few clicks of a button, which is much easier than changing the SOP and re-training staff on the new parameters.

Should You Get a Colony Picking Robot for Your Lab?

If throughput demands are outpacing staff capacity, or if following a strict colony picking protocol is part of your lab’s workflow, then you should consider automating the process. Whether it’s for picking bacterial colonies, yeast or fungus, a colony picking system can be easily programmed to pick only quality colonies for your lab’s needs. It also frees up valuable workforce to carry out more impactful tasks in the lab, which can bring your R&D efforts to new heights.

There are various colony picking robots available to cater to different picking targets, so plan your goals ahead of time before purchasing one.

Hudson Robotics is an industry leader when equipping labs needing automated colony picking systems; contact us today to learn more.