Let Automation Take You to the Bright Side of Lab Life

02/07/2018 - 5 minutes

Imagine a perfect day in the lab. The sun is shining, your colleagues are cheerful, and the results from your latest experiment are just great. Your next publication in a high-ranking journal is ever so close, and your professor calls you in to congratulate and give you a pay rise. Wow. Does your daydream include manually pipetting hundreds of tiny PCR reactions?

Probably not.

Don’t talk to me—for your own safety!

Enrique Neumann, PhD, Product and Application Manager Genomics at Tecan, couldn’t agree more. “When I was working in the lab, I had this special lab bench”, he tells us. “I only used it for pipetting qPCRs. Whenever I was working at this bench, everyone knew it was best to leave me alone, as I would invariably be in a very bad mood. Which would not improve if someone distracted me and I made a mistake.”

pipetting, automation
Enrique Neumann, PhD, Product and Application Manager Genomics at Tecan

Highly repetitive work, such as manual pipetting, gets boring quickly. Your mind wanders off—to an interesting publication or a sunny day at the beach—and then it happens: You start wondering if you added both primers to each of the 50+ reactions. And was your template DNA dilution really correct? Hmm. Difficult to say now.

Breakthrough discovery—or just messy pipetting?

Problem is, your results often won’t say more either. Whenever your data look different from what you expected, it will be difficult to tell: Is it just a pipetting error, or a breakthrough discovery? You’ll have to repeat it to be sure, wasting more of your precious time and budget. If you are not in a bad mood already, frustration will kick in now for sure.

Things might just get worse if you are analyzing important patient samples. The NGS sequencing data obtained from a tumor biopsy may lead to treatment decisions with potentially serious consequences. Often, you cannot just repeat the experiment if you suspect a pipetting error, because all material has been used up and cannot be replaced.

No more bad pipetting days?

Having a robotic pipetting friend can take you to the bright side of lab life. Someone who never complains will prepare your NGS library or qPCR plates for you, while you sip coffee and think about your next exciting experiment, or chat with the lovely postdoc from the lab next door. Either way, your mood will improve.

Your new friend’s name could be “Freedom EVO®” or “Fluent®”, depending on your requirements. Both are versatile, compact platforms that come with intuitive touch-screen software and fully validated protocols for applications like NGS library preparation or qPCR setup.

pipetting, automation, Tecan
A close up of Tecan’s Freedom EVO® series

Your way to the bright side

But how to get there, if you don’t even know where to start? “We always take a lot of time to listen to our customers. What are their applications and challenges? What do they want an automated solution to do for them? How can we achieve it with the budget available?” Enrique explains.

“More importantly, we also work to future-proof their setup. Will the lab’s focus change in the next years—do they expect an increase in throughput? Are they exploring new applications? All this is taken into account to identify an automated solution that fits the needs of the group perfectly—now, and in the future.”

Stop pipetting. Be creative

In Enrique’s experience, life in the lab can demonstrably improve with automated solutions: “People are in a better mood, and have more time to be creative, and to come up with new scientific ideas. Often, staff turnover goes down,” he says.

pipetting, automation, Tecan
The upsides of lab automation are increased efficiency, data quality, and improved reproducibility.

People also work more efficiently, using fewer consumables. “The kits needed to prepare an NGS library can easily amount to several hundred Euros, so reducing repetition rate can have a significant economic impact”, Enrique says.

Last but not least, data quality and reproducibility improve. When before, you had to rely on those colleagues with “golden hands” who would prepare a much better NGS library than anyone else for no conceivable reason, now anyone gets excellent results, even on a bad day.

Software: Friend or foe?

Of course, any new instrument can be intimidating at first. “We know that it all boils down to the software”, Enrique says. “It must be easy to use or the instrument will never be used to its full capacity. For everyday use, our instruments are operated by touchscreens with easy-to-understand icons and instructions So when you run our software in ‘operator’ mode, there is no way that you can modify a script by mistake.”

pipetting, automation, Tecan
Tecan strives to create software for its automated platforms that is accessible and easy to operate.

Creating your own protocol is not rocket science either. “Our programs use pre-defined building blocks that can be intuitively combined. During programming, the software continually provides feedback, for instance it will tell you if a step you have designed is not possible or might lead to a crash,” Enrique points out.

The list of available, ready-to-use protocols is getting longer every day. “Right now, a dedicated team is busy establishing new nucleic acid purification and NGS library preparation scripts for our platforms. Through experiments performed in our in-house lab, and with the help of reference customers, we validate every new protocol under real-life conditions to ensure it runs smoothly from day 1.”

Interested in regular updates about current and future trends in NGS, PCR, and nucleic acid purification automation? Want to gain some useful tips and tricks to make your life easier in the lab? Subscribe to Tecan’s Blog to get in the know and up to date with the current innovations in the field.


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