Quantitative PCR (qPCR) is a powerful tool used for genotyping, SNP analysis, and gene-expression studies. Quantitative detection of small mRNA expression changes facilitates the characterization of early-stage cancer and infectious disease. Advances in qPCR technology to enable the use of high density 384- and 1,536-well microplates have led to a demand for automation and miniaturization of qPCR preparation.
With automation, researchers can generate larger sets of data quickly, while minimizing resource burden and improving reproducibility across assays. As researchers push further toward miniaturization, potential cost savings are met with a high risk for cross contamination, lower precision, and poor accuracy.
Labcyte’s Access™ workstation relies on the company’s Echo® liquid handler and its tipless, touchless transfer of samples and reagents to eliminate such risks. With the use of acoustic energy, the Echo liquid handler enables cherry-picking and reformatting of samples from any well of a source plate to any well of an assay plate with high precision, accuracy, and no risk for cross contamination.
The Access workstation seamlessly adds automated sealing, centrifugation, and bulk reagent dispensing—creating a simple walk-up and walk-away solution to overcome the challenges of miniaturized, high-throughput gene-expression profiling (Figure 1).
Cost Savings with Miniaturization
Moving qPCR workflows to high-density formats can provide a valuable increase in experimental throughput. Additionally, by reducing the amount of source mRNA consumed, researchers can dramatically increase the number of experiments performed with limited amounts of starting sample.
When commonly used volumes of 25 µL are reduced to 300 nL, the savings on master mix, probes, and primers are more than 95%. The same expenditure can yield twenty times as many high-quality assays or provide savings of tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.
Simplified Protocol Development
With a suite of software applications to guide protocol development and automation control, the time required to implement the Access workstation for qPCR workflows is far less than expected. For qPCR setup, the Echo Plate Reformat (EPR) application is used to map transfers of master mix, primers, and cDNA samples from source plates to PCR assay plates. With the freedom of any-well to any-well transfers, the Echo liquid handler accommodates any arrangement of samples and assay reagents for assay design flexibility.
The Access workstation’s automation control software incorporates EPR transfer protocols into automated routines with plate-handling actions optimized for efficiency. Since every automation event is scheduled to ensure that the Echo liquid-handler steps are given the highest priority, automated routines achieve maximum throughput.
Wizard-based interfaces make it easy to edit existing protocols, track plate properties, analyze reports, and quickly recover from errors. The guidance and utility of the software alone accelerates transfer of assays from the lab bench to the Access system.