How Many People Does it Take to Pipet a 384-Well Plate?

Chemical, biochemical, analytical, molecular biology, research laboratories, and so on all use pipetting, one of the oldest and most basic techniques in the lab.

We’ve all done it, we’re still doing it, but we’ll never learn to love it.

Even though pipetting directly influences results, integrity, and lab performance, it is so basic that scientists usually forget to factor in the time required for liquid transfers into protocol time estimates. Pipetting is facing the constant challenge of using smaller volumes without compromising accuracy, in other words, from milliliters to microliters. The formats of liquid containers have also followed this evolution. For many years the most popular liquid container in life sciences has been a microtiter plate that has a standardized footprint (SBS standard). Over the years, the density of the format (number of wells on the same surface) has increased from 96 to 384 or even 1536!

It is virtually impossible for the human brain to process the 1536-well plates: We still struggle with 384 and 96. You might ask yourself, “How about automated liquid handling solutions such as pipetting robots and other such dispensers—Can’t they help”?

They can, and form part of an exquisite technological progress, but there are certain barriers to entry:

  • The lab must have the budget for it
  • The lab must have the throughput for it
  • The plate layout must not change drastically from plate to plate
  • Technicians must remember not to stick their head too close because it might knock them out if not programmed correctly.

Today’s reality is that we’re still stuck with manual pipetting and the perennial question, “Just how many people does it take to pipet a 384-well plate”?

The most accurate answer is “At least one, sometimes two.”

Even if a robot performs the mechanical movements, a person has to provide the brains for the robot at some stage, usually at the beginning and sometimes in between when something goes wrong. And to be honest, we all tend to stand next to the robot and stare at it just to “make sure” everything is okay. Just how productive is that?

Anyone who has pipetted more than one 96- or 384-well plate per day would have needed some kind of assistance. Many of us have envisaged a small and simple device, a helper, a savior, that would offer at least some level of support or guidance. Because what is more stressful in the lab than pipetting a 384 plate? I’d have to say pipetting samples from 96- to a 384-well plate! Does any of this sound familiar?

I believe that the human mind has an immense capacity, but sometimes it’s unable to efficiently switch between two coordinate systems in a time-efficient way. One or two such plates per day can really take a toll on overall productivity. Sometimes a second person helps the “operator” by reading the coordinates to ease the stress and decrease the error rate.

Researchers at BioSistemika Ltd. teamed up with developers and took this issue seriously. We developed PlatR, a smart pipetting assistant that anyone who has been in a development team has longed for during “pipetting days.” The vision behind the development was: Keep it flexible, reliable, and easy to use. And so the PlatR was born.

PlatR is a simple device that replaces the necessity of checking every well a couple of times to make sure you (or the colleague who helped you) did everything right when you navigated through the densely packed wells on the plate. Using the position lights and integrated expert knowledge, it will show you, with exquisite precision, the exact position where your next reagent or sample should be, regardless of which plate you use.

Taking advantage of touchscreen technology enables you to instantly create a plate layout, i.e., a pipetting plan, or literally draw one and use the plate layouts to express yourself in a creative way during your everyday pipetting routine. Reliable navigation will relieve stress and enable you to stay equally efficient, even after pipetting a couple of full plates. PlatR was developed by scientists for scientists with a simple vision: to create effortless manual pipetting. Try it.

Matjaz Hren is COO, BioSistemika Ltd., Ljubljana, Slovenia;

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