With liquid handling options spanning the range from a simple pipet to a full-scale, multifunction workstation, selecting the ideal system for your application can be mind-boggling. Automated systems can be optimized for any number of techniques, including ELISA, time-resolved fluorescence, nucleic acid preparation, PCR setup, next-generation sequencing for genomic research, TLC spotting, SPE, and liquid–liquid extraction. Applications are just as far-reaching, including drug discovery, forensics, materials science, molecular biology, clinical research, and pharmaceutical development.
Types of liquid handling equipment include pipets and micropipets, both digital and electronic, with fixed or disposable tips; microplate or microtiter plate dispensers, stackers, handlers, and washers; and a wide variety of automated robotic systems. Common multichannel pipetting configurations incorporate 4, 12, 96, 384, or 1536 channels. Volume ranges go from the now-common microliter volumes down to nanoliter and picoliter levels, with femtoliter dispensing garnering more interest for use in microarray applications.
How do I choose a liquid handling device?
The choice begins with the level of automation desired. Can a case be made for extending the budget to include semi- or full automation or an upgrade to the existing system? Keep in mind the high cost of reagents and operator hours that will be saved by doing so. When shopping for a manual device, don’t underestimate the importance of good ergonomic design.
How many plates will be processed each day, and what levels of speed, precision, accuracy and volume will be required?
How versatile and easy to use is the software?
Carefully consider the system’s upgradeability if you anticipate increased requirements.
Is there plenty of room in the lab for your proposed system? Manufacturers are taking note of reduced lab sizes and offering instruments with a more compact footprint.
Liquid handling trends
A significant trend focuses on using semicustomized systems to bring automation to labs that do not have the budget for start-to-finish automation. These systems offer push-button operation that also incorporates flexibility—a compromise between a manual pipettor and a completely automated system.
Software updates permit further customization of procedures and transfer volumes, as well as full traceability. These improvements give rise to a quick and easy learning curve, since both new and existing users desire a user-friendly interface with no sacrifice in capability.
There is also a maintained focus on process security features to handle increasing regulatory requirements, which also includes the capability of working with cell-based assays.
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