Building the entry-level smart lab: liquid handling

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Sequencing, cell tradition, hybridization assays, and cell screening — to call a couple of — are all transferring towards producing extra information in much less time, which requires automation.

For smaller labs, the idea of automating routine duties on the analysis bench is a pretty chance. Nonetheless, it might appear out of attain as a result of a wide range of components, together with price, house, and coaching necessities. Thankfully, automation applied sciences have superior an amazing deal within the final decade, making high-value, entry-level automated liquid dealing with platforms and different methods considerably smaller, inexpensive, and simpler to make use of.

Automation platforms can simplify routine laboratory duties in any analysis program, and the advantages don’t finish there.


For many labs, personnel prices are the best line-item expense in a analysis finances. Maximizing the effectivity of laboratory workers is paramount to the success and productiveness of a business lab or analysis program.

It is very important observe that a lab doesn’t need to be totally automated to profit from lab automation. The obvious targets for automation are repetitive, laborious duties, akin to pipetting and liquid dealing with, that could possibly be delegated to an automatic system. Critically, this recouped time can be utilized for higher-level information evaluation and different laboratory duties. Rising productiveness is simply one of many some ways automated liquid handlers and different automated methods present a return on funding (ROI, Determine 1).

Much less apparent targets for automation and informatics, nonetheless, are the period of time required for experiment planning and routine information evaluation. Software program can be accessible to help workers with the right design of routine experiments within the lab and is included with automated liquid dealing with and different automation platforms.

An necessary consideration for labs serious about automation is the elevated quantity of information generated by extra automated, high-throughput methods. Elevated information era might lead to laboratory workers being buried in information or take a look at outcomes with out the evaluation instruments to deal with the elevated workload. Quite than growing the variety of workers devoted to information evaluation, labs can incorporate higher-throughput informatics options to remove information bottlenecks within the lab and improve the productiveness of the lab as a complete.



For a lot of small labs, significantly in academia, extra repetitive and laborious duties have been delegated to undergraduates or different college students with little to no coaching or expertise in life sciences analysis for little or no compensation.





Determine 1.A flowchart illustrating the return on funding (ROI) of automation and informatics platforms within the analysis lab.



Whereas this technique could appear cost-effective at first, information generated by much less skilled and more cost effective workers might carry the next price ticket in the long term. Points with information reproducibility, accuracy, and failed experiments waste each money and time, lowering the productiveness of the lab. Labs can lose months’ price of labor, for instance, if a mouse colony is wrongly genotyped and utilized in extremely technical experiments down the street.

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need of next-generation sequencing (NGS) for diagnostic testing and epidemiological research, and staffing shortages strengthened the function automation can play in productiveness bottlenecks. Labs tasked with around-the-clock processing, testing, and evaluation of specimens can significantly profit from automation by facilitating:

Pattern processing, testing, and evaluation with fewer workers members
Staffing labs with personnel with much less specialised coaching
Improved pattern high quality
Much less pattern retesting

Importantly, these advantages can lengthen to smaller labs that would profit merely from after-hours testing or improved, extra constant pattern prep and information reproducibility. Automation permits these labs to extend productiveness with out the burden of hiring workers for extra repetitive and labor-intensive points of lab analysis.


Life science analysis reagents are more and more costly. Automated pattern prep and liquid dealing with may help a analysis program’s backside line by lowering the quantity of waste brought on by minor laboratory reagent spills.

Improved information high quality, accuracy, and reproducibility additionally lower the variety of replicates required to statistically energy a analysis research, enhancing experiment effectivity. This decreases the variety of ideas required for pipetting, the quantity of reagents wanted for a research, and the period of time required to finish an experiment.



Determine 2 illustrates how lowering information error can improve the facility of experimental research. Within the left panel, the variations in particular person information measurements are so giant that information factors overlap between the management and experimental teams. In distinction, the info factors in the correct panel have decrease variability, and there’s no overlap in information measurements between the management and experimental teams.


The dearth of overlap between measurements within the two teams decreases the chance that the variations noticed between the 2 teams occurred solely by probability. In different phrases, lowering measurement error – by way of automation or different means — will increase the statistical significance of an experimental end result.

Enhancing the statistical energy of experiments additionally improves the chance of a research detecting smaller results of an experiment variable, whereas lower-powered research will solely catch bigger, extra apparent results (Determine 3). Finally, incorporating automation into laboratory workflows and lowering measurement variability may help research detect experimental results which may in any other case stay undiscovered.

Determine 3. A diagram utilizing a visible analogy to explain how experiments with increased statistical energy can detect smaller experimental results in comparison with experiments with decrease statistical energy. (



Let’s face it: individuals have elbows and wrists that put on out and may’t get replaced. Robots have mechanical joints and components that put on out that may simply get replaced.

Repetitive pressure harm is an actual situation in laboratories that depend upon repetitive, laborious motions as a part of their regular workflow. These accidents additionally are inclined to happen in workers who carry out these motions probably the most usually over the longest time frame — probably the most skilled and oftentimes most educated personnel of the lab.

The Nationwide Institute for Occupational Security and Well being (NIOSH) estimates that occupational musculoskeletal problems, together with repetitive pressure accidents, price the U.S. between $13 and $20 billion yearly. The median time away from work for a repetitive pressure harm is estimated at 18 days. A complete of 55% of repetitive pressure accidents within the research have an effect on the wrist.

OSHA’s occupational accidents and sicknesses price estimator estimates that a single case of carpal tunnel syndrome within the office prices an employer $30,930 in direct prices and $34,023 in oblique prices, totaling $64,953. For a business lab with a 3% revenue margin, the corporate should improve gross sales by an extra $2,165,100 to cowl the overall price of the one repetitive pressure harm.

The losses incurred by labs as a result of repetitive pressure accidents are actual and vital, and disproportionately have an effect on workers with probably the most expertise on the job. Thankfully, automation can remove the chance of repetitive movement accidents within the lab whereas growing employee productiveness and lowering experimental waste and measurement variability.



Maybe most significantly, life sciences analysis and business labs have gotten more and more high-throughput, requiring automation of frequent, repetitive duties and information evaluation to keep up the productiveness and value effectivity of different labs.

The Nationwide Institutes of Well being and different granting businesses have taken discover.

Sanger sequencing has been relegated to functions requiring solely probably the most correct DNA sequencing, akin to diagnosing gene mutations in a single geneNext-generation sequencing is at the moment magnitudes of order cheaper and quicker than conventional Sanger sequencingLinkage evaluation research, beforehand used to pinpoint causative gene mutations, have largely fallen to the wayside in favor of exon or whole-genome sequencingMass spectrometry has all however changed the Western blot to establish differential expression of proteins

Granting businesses pay shut consideration to which laboratories embrace new applied sciences to enhance the effectivity of diagnostics, experiments, and total lab productiveness, and that is usually mirrored in grant and different funding suggestions. This contains using automated liquid dealing with methods that may be programmed to carry out any activity a technician would do with a hand-held pipettor and completely different sized pipette ideas (Determine 4). This automation frees up personnel time for different lab priorities and information evaluation whereas delegating pipetting to a quick, dependable, and exact automated dispenser.


Determine 4. Frequent laboratory duties that may be automated to enhance lab effectivity and productiveness.




Many labs incorrectly assume that the upfront price of automated applied sciences is just too excessive to justify their buy. Nonetheless, advances in expertise and competitors between distributors have considerably decreased the price of many automated liquid dealing with methods and the funding required to enhance throughput within the laboratory.

Smaller semi-automated liquid dealing with methods, as an example, can price as little as $5,000, whereas extra complicated, fully-automated methods can price as a lot as $500,000. Importantly, there may be an automatic system accessible for practically each pipetting activity.



Advances in expertise have additionally decreased the quantity of in-house infrastructure required for lab automation. Just about all methods embrace a pc to program workflows. Many high-level computing sources have been shifted to cloud-based applied sciences that scale back the dependence on on-site server house or in-house computing energy. Nearly all of liquid handlers moreover present their very own refrigeration.



Whereas automation might lower the personnel necessities for sure repetitive laboratory duties, it might take up useful analysis house in already crowded quarters. Over time, the footprint of automated liquid dealing with methods has decreased considerably. In reality, the footprint of most methods is dictated by the dimensions and variety of plates to run in a given workflow. Liquid dealing with system distributors provide a wide range of options for labs requiring extra commonplace excessive throughput options versus methods that require 24/7 operation with minimal human intervention.



Many automated methods are designed for compatibility with a wide range of completely different consumable manufacturers somewhat than only a single, in-house model. With elevated competitors within the lab automation market, distributors are conscious that seemingly innocent modifications, akin to altering the model of pipette tip, can alter the outcomes of extremely delicate experiments. Elevated competitors additionally ensures that the labs are ready to decide on the provides they like primarily based on each high quality and worth.


Warmth and Noise

Laboratory tools is infamous for warmth and noise. Fortunately, advances in expertise have improved cooling effectivity in automated liquid dealing with methods, lowering their noise and warmth output. The exact tip becoming of automated handlers may lower noise within the lab in comparison with the loud, forceful becoming of ideas onto guide multichannel pipettors.



The necessities and workflows for each lab are completely different, making alternatives for automation differ from lab to lab. With a purpose to decide how automation will impression your lab’s effectivity and productiveness, you will need to think about the next questions (Determine 5):

Which lab workflows can profit from automation?
How do laboratory workers really feel automation would have an effect on their workday and productiveness?
Does our lab wish to automate a number of workflows or begin with only one? Which workflows ought to we prioritize?
Which automation options can be found for our workflow? What options match our finances?
Produce other labs used the identical methods? What are the professionals and cons of every system?

Asking these questions up entrance will assist managers perceive the wants of laboratory workers and the priorities of this system, division, or firm as a complete. Moreover, researching the completely different methods accessible for liquid dealing with and different automation can construct confidence in bigger line-item purchases.

Critically, life sciences analysis is transferring towards increased and better throughput strategies and applied sciences, requiring labs to adapt or undergo decrease effectivity and productiveness in comparison with their extra automated counterparts. Smaller labs, particularly, not have to worry the up-front funding in automated liquid dealing with methods as a result of their lowering worth, growing flexibility and smaller footprints of high-value, entry-level methods just like the ARI Scorpion. Investments in laboratory automation can reap vital rewards in information high quality and total effectivity each now and sooner or later.



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