Improving Reproducibility with Automated Liquid Handling

Automated liquid handling reduces manual labor and improves precision, reproducibility, and throughput.

The Scientist Creative Services Team in collaboration with Eppendorf

Transferring and dispensing liquids are simple and mundane tasks that have profound influences on experimental results. Using manual single-channel pipettes to transfer samples or reagents is commonplace among researchers. Incorporating multi-channel pipettes improves productivity to an extent, but that benefit diminishes as the number and scale of experiments increase. Researchers can improve the speed, precision, and reproducibility of their liquid handling by making the switch to an automated system.

While manually dispensing liquids, user-to-user variation in pipette handling introduces errors. Improper pipette handling, inconsistency in aspiration and dispensing rhythm, and variability in pipetting speed are common examples of user error that reduce experimental efficiency and precision. For example, excessive or rough pipetting of protein or nucleic acid solutions degrades sample quality. Additionally, users can easily cross-contaminate their samples, which leads to unreliable results or failed experiments.

In addition to operator error, the characteristics of different liquid types contribute to inaccuracies. For example, viscous liquids do not flow easily, and as viscosity increases, so do pipetting errors. Viscous liquids have a slow flow rate, and volume loss is unavoidable if they are not dispensed slowly. Moreover, using an inappropriate pipette for the liquid type alters the dispensing volume.

Precisely pipetting small volumes demands careful handling skills. With increasing complexity and throughput in experiments that require especially small volumes, such as qPCR, drug library screening, genomics, and molecular diagnostics, manual pipetting compounds human error, drastically reducing precision.

Automating liquid transfers solves the problems associated with manual pipetting. Improved reproducibility and precision are the most obvious advantages, as automation removes user variability. Additionally, automation greatly enhances throughput, maximizes productivity, and obliterates user error, making it an attractive choice for low- and high-throughput laboratory tasks.

The Eppendorf epMotion® series automated liquid handling workstations offers a solution to increase accuracy, flexibility, and scalability in experiments performed in both small research groups and big laboratories. Each epMotion system includes autoclavable single- or multi-channel dispensing tools for volumes from 200 nL to 1,000 μL, and an optical sensor that quality checks the deck positions before each run and detects the liquid type and volumes in vessels in a contact-free manner. In addition, the sensor distinguishes the number and type of loading tips prior to the start of an operation.

Each model in the epMotion series can be tailored for specific applications. For example, epMotion 96 is a simple 96-well multi-channel pipette with parallel piston movements that ensure complete and precise reagent distribution in 96- and 384-well plates. epMotion 5070 is a compact solution for routine applications, while epMotion 5073 systems are tailored for PCR setup, nucleic acid purification, and next generation sequencing. Finally, the largest epMotion 5075 is a diverse tool for applications including real-time PCR set-up, next generation sequencing, and cell-based assays. The epMotion 5070, 5073, and 5075 systems have multiple deck positions that facilitate a range of tasks, from routine serial dilutions to complex operations. Additionally, these instruments reliably dispense the low volumes required of high-throughput assays.

Finally, Eppendorf epMotion liquid-handling systems are equipped with intuitive and user-friendly epBlueTM software. The software includes a large repository of labware and liquid types to streamline pipetting for standard applications, such as pipetting in 96- or 384-well plates. With the epMotion systems and accessory dispensing tools, scientists execute simple experiments with precision and boost reproducibility in complex, high-throughput experiments, such as drug screening, genomics, proteomics, and cell-based assays.