SANTA FE, N.M.—The Department of Energy believes robotics and other automated processes can free molecular biologists from much of the tedious work now performed manually in their laboratories. But responses among the 160 scientists, technicians and research administrators who attended a workshop on the subject here last month suggest the department needs to work on its sales pitch.

The three-day meeting was organized by Tony Beugelsdijk, a chemist specializing in laboratory robotics at Los Alamos National Laboratories. Many microbiologists tend to consider robotics an all-or-nothing proposition, he said, when in reality reprogrammable, multi-use robots and forms of single-task automation can be used together to speed up the sequencing process.

"There's a lack of appreciation for what automation can do at this point," Beugelsdijk said after he conducted a cross-country search on the potential applications of robotics. "[Biologists] thought robots were very good at spray-painting cars." To those who were disappointed...

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