A Trade-off Between Speed and Walkaway Time in Genomic Sample Preparation
Preparing samples for genetic analysis by qPCR or NGS can be a highly time consuming process. Depending on the number of samples to be prepared in a single sitting, there are several automated sample preparation tools that can save precious minutes and hours either by increasing throughput or allowing researchers to spend their time making more intellectual contributions in the lab. This blog post highlights the difference between speed and walkaway time when assessing the value of different solutions for automated liquid handling.
Speed for Low Throughput
Just as some laboratory technicians perform tasks more quickly and efficiently than others, not all laboratory automation platforms are created equally. Depending on the task at hand, certain solutions make much more sense if speed is of concern. In low throughput environments where one or two plates need to be processed at a time, the faster an instrument can process samples, the quicker plates can be processed, and the sooner analysis of proteins or nucleic acids can commence. To increase the efficiency of a process, it may make sense to address some of the most cumbersome steps of the sample preparation workflow instead of attempting to automate the entire process with a complex instrument. For example, when preparing NGS libraries manually, one of the most time consuming processes can be nucleic acid normalization prior to library pooling, since the volume of diluent to be added differs between each sample. Instead of changing the dial of a pipette in between each well or coding a complex protocol on a traditional liquid handling platform, a reagent dispenser like the MANTIS® liquid handler from FORMULATRIX® can normalize a 96-well plate in under a minute with the click of a button.
Walkaway Time for High Throughput
Although one might expect automated sample preparation to work more quickly than manual preparation, this is often not the case. The truth about liquid handling automation is that it often completes processes more slowly than a laboratory technician could. However, automated platforms prepare samples more reproducible and offer researchers with "walkaway time" to focus on other tasks in the lab. In higher throughput environments, where more than 2 plates are processed in a given sitting, reproducibility and walkaway time begin to offer significant benefits in the context of genomic sample preparation. The accuracy and precision of manual pipetting will only decrease with increasing throughput, as tasks become more monotonous and people become fatigued over time. As a result of walkaway time, researchers can spend their valuable time in the lab analyzing data, designing their next experiment, or even taking a well deserved coffee break while automation takes care of high-quality sample preparation.
- Speed and walkaway time are different benefits that may apply to your lab more or less depending on the current processes and the task at hand.
- When performing sample preparation for a few plates at a time, an automated solution that addresses the rate-limiting step in a workflow benefits researchers more than walkaway time by increasing the time to analysis and allowing research cycles to progress more quickly.
- When performing higher throughput sample preparation, full workflow automation offers a significant walkaway time allowing researchers to focus on value-adding tasks. In this case, the physical speed of automation is less of a concern.