Image of liquid drops and lab robot for article on liquid handling.
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Published On: June 28th, 2022Categories: Articles, Liquid Handling

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Liquid handling is transferring fluid in a laboratory setting from one container to another and is used for testing purposes. Liquid handling is a key task in drug discovery, development and  Q.A./Q.C. It can be used in high throughput R&D, high content assays and any type of lab process including Genomics and DNA . It is a precise process in which lab technicians may evaluate sample sizes smaller than 1 microliter (μL). Read on to learn more about liquid handling equipment needed for this process and more about automated liquid handling.

Different Types of Pipetting & When to Use Them

It’s important to know what type of pipetting to use for liquid sample handling. There are three different types of pipetting:

  • Manual
  • Semi-automated
  • Automated

If there are a small number of samples with no worry of hazardous or infectious samples, manual pipetting is often a good choice. If there are slightly more samples (such as a few dozen), semi-automation is best. For hundreds to thousands of samples, automation is the best option. For sample loads exceeding this, fully automated integrated systems work well. It also protects people from hazardous and infectious samples.

Hand (manual) pipetting uses adjustable- or fixed-volume pipettes, while semi-automation uses motor driven pipettors that are moved over the labware by hand. Full automation uses an automated liquid handler with a motorized pipette (or syringe), attached to a robotic arm. These machines aspirate and dispense a variable, programmed volume of liquid into a container. Most robotic pipettors are equipped with various functions on the deck such as shakers, heating/cooling nests, magnetic bead nests, filtration stations and other basic sample preparation support functions.

Liquid Handling Equipment: What Is Best for Automation?

While the output needed dictates what type of pipetting is needed, there is also a general list of ideal processes and applications for automated  liquid handling equipment. These include:

  • Nucleic acid preparation
  • High Content Assays
  • PCR setup
  • Next-generation sequencing (NGS) library prep
  • Solid-phase extraction (SPE)

There are other applications that work well with automation; this is not a comprehensive list.

More About Liquid Handling Equipment

Using liquid handling equipment vs. manual pipetting runs under the same school of thought, but obviously, the process is different while using a machine. These machines use integrated software for aspirating, dispensing, and mixing protocols. While there are other benefits of equipment, one is eliminating technician-to-technician variability while also increasing reproducibility between and within plates. These machines can also handle more complex and precise processes, such as plate replication, plate-to-plate or plate-to-interplate sample transfers, and serial dilution.

Liquid handling equipment also uses the same pipettes as manual handling, unless you need more specialized tips for something more complex.

How to Set Up Automated Liquid Handling

Those who operate this equipment must be highly skilled, as it is a job that requires the utmost precision. The machine must be set up properly and intuitive for the tech to use.  In general terms, there is a five-step process to set up automation:

  1. Know the properties of the liquid.
  2. Select a predefined liquid class.
  3. Run a sample test and evaluate and visually inspect the pipetting.
  4. Optimize parameters until pipetting is to spec.
  5. Verify volume and adjust the correction curve as needed.

What Are the Benefits of Liquid Handling Equipment?

Other than some of the benefits already mentioned, automation has many benefits. Some of these include:

  • Less risk of contaminating samples with human contact (RNA/RNAse) 
  • Less risk of coming into contact with hazardous materials
  • Constant results, which can run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
  • Uses less labor
  • Reduces human error 

One downside of using manual pipetting is the amount of labor it takes to process the samples and the potential for human error to be involved.

The Last Step in Using Liquid Handling Equipment

While these machines are exact, outcomes should be double-checked after completing the process. The technicians want to ensure that the liquid transfers at the correct volume. There are several different methods for measurement, such as:

  • Fluorometric measurement 
  • Photometric measurement 
  • Photometric and gravimetric measurement
  • Gravimetric measurement 

There are two measures of liquid handling performance:

  • Precision – the measure of how closely results are relative to each other, most often expressed in terms of the Coefficient of Variation, or C.V.
  • Accuracy – the measure of how close the result compares to a standard. 

While automation is typically precise and ideal for many applications, results still need to be visually evaluated and measured to verify.

Hudson Robotics has been the leading supplier of automated products for over 38 years. To learn more about liquid handling equipment, speak to a representative today!