Laboratory automation typically involves integrating key instrumentation with liquid- and microplate-handling robots creating workcells that are often designed for a single protocol. The scheduling software for such a system is used simply to reproduce the required steps with some step modifications to study samples of varying nature. This approach, however, can lead to the purchase of underutilized liquid- and plate-handling robots along with lack of automation of instrumentation that does not take part in frequently used procedures.
Scheduling software has become more versatile over the years, making it easy for different pieces of equipment to share the same automation robots. One can then design a series of virtual workstations, employing overlapping components of a workcell in various sequences, even at the same time.
With the recent proliferation of multimode microplate readers, it is now possible to support a wide variety of screening protocols typically used in exploratory drug discovery. By building an automated workcell around such a device and employing advanced scheduling software technology, it is possible to create a highly flexible, general screening system that can run a FRET assay one day and an ELISA assay the next, simply by loading the appropriate file into the system. This tutorial will demonstrate an approach to this system developed at the Hudson Control Group.
Biological Assay Screening System
The VaryScreen™ system (Figure 1) was designed to carry out many of the screens that are accessible using the detection technologies supported by most multimode readers such as fluorescence adsorption, fluorescence polarization, luminescence, and UV/Visible adsorption.
The system includes a multichannel dispenser, automatic pipettor, and a microplate washer to support most liquid-handling needs. An automatic incubator and a microplate shaker nest control reaction conditions. Plates are stored and transported by a stacking system connected to the liquid handlers by a moving track. A robotic arm in the center of the system moves plates from this unit to the remaining instruments.
Samples can be prepared and read by combining the appropriate sequence of steps, as prescribed by the individual protocols. Then by applying the appropriate detection method one can carry out all sorts of assays such as FRET, TR-FRET, HTRF, LANCE, AlphaScreen™, ELISA, FP, and reporter assays including Luciferase and beta-galactosidase.