Preparing reagents: how automation can help
What is the importance of reagent preparation?
The accurate preparation, handling, and storage of reagents is arguably the most crucial part of any experimental workflow 1,2. If reagents are prepared incorrectly, the chance of success is next to nothing. Preparing, handling, and storing reagents correctly ultimately determines the outcome of the experiment and allows for consistent, accurate, and reproducible results, saving time, money, and effort.
What are the different types of reagents?
A reagent is any substance that plays a role in a chemical reaction. Reagents include solvents, buffers, enzymes, and catalysts and are commonly used in diagnostic tests in clinical laboratories or enzyme activity tests in research laboratories.
In life sciences, some of the most commonly used reagents include reaction buffers, synthetic components such as nucleotides and oligonucleotides, cofactors such as ATP or NADH, growth factors for cells, stains such as Trypan Blue, and large molecules such as antibodies.
How to prepare reagents in the laboratory
The protocol for preparing reagents can vary greatly depending on the specific characteristics of the particular reagent and the experimental protocol 1. Thus, it is crucial for the user to fully understand the reagent and experiment before beginning any preparation procedures.
Preparing lab reagents often involves weighing out a specific amount of a solid, often in powder form. High-precision weighing scales or balances are usually used for this purpose. Pipetting is required to accurately measure liquids, which often utilises automated liquid handling and dispensing tools. Measuring reagents with high precision is essential to ensure the correct concentration is used and can be challenging when small amounts are required.
Often, lab reagents come in solution at a very high concentration. In this case, the reagents require dilution into appropriate buffers, which necessitates a high degree of accuracy and precision of pipetting to ensure the correct concentration is reached. Automated pipetting solutions are crucial for this.
Many reagents come in powder form and require dissolving in a solvent. The most commonly used solvents include distilled water, ethanol, or dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO). The substance is added to the solvent and mixed until it is fully dissolved. Sometimes, dissolution requires heating or stirring. Depending on the specific reagent and its use, the pH may need to be controlled. A pH meter is used to measure the reagent’s pH, and acid or base is added until the desired pH is achieved.
Some lab reagents need to be sterilised to prevent microbial contamination. This is typically done by autoclaving or filtration and is particularly important in biological labs where sterility is paramount. Finally, reagents must be stored under appropriate conditions (temperature, light exposure, etc.) to maintain their integrity 3.
Preparing reagents can be a time-consuming process, consisting of several steps that are prone to human error. Key challenges with reagent preparation include precision, contamination, stability, and safety.
How automation can help with reagent preparation
Recently, more and more researchers and institutions have begun to adopt a more automated approach to research, and it has become clear that automation offers many advantages over traditional manual processes.
Automation can help overcome many of the challenges associated with reagent preparation, including:
- Precision and accuracy: Automated systems can weigh and measure reagents more accurately and precisely than human users. Automated systems, including liquid handling systems, are also less prone to errors, effectively resulting in more consistent, reproducible results 4. Reducing error also saves time and resources, rendering automated systems more cost-effective in the long run
- Sterility: Automated reagent preparation can be carried out in a completely sterile environment, reducing the chances of contamination of reagents during preparation. As a general rule of thumb, less human intervention equals less chance of contamination
- Efficiency: Automated reagent preparation methods are very efficient and can handle many reagents simultaneously in ways that researchers would find extremely taxing or would simply not be possible, increasing scalability. Handing over such mundane, time-consuming tasks also frees up highly trained research staff for tasks where their skills are required, improving researcher efficiency and saving time and money
- Safety: Some reagents can be hazardous, so limiting laboratory personnel’s exposure to such reagents by utilising automated systems is a key advantage
Overall, automated reagent preparation solutions such as Automata’s LINQ platform can help overcome many of the challenges associated with laboratory reagent preparation, ultimately improving the accuracy and reproducibility of experiments, and improving researchers’ efficiency and productivity.
LINQ: A new open, integrated laboratory automation platform
Our new open, integrated automation solution – LINQ – features a unique laboratory bench, with integrated automation capabilities and accompanying powerful, proprietary lab orchestration software.
1. Singleton TL. Preparation of Solutions and Reagents. In: Singleton TL, ed. Schizosaccharomyces Pombe. Vol 1721. Methods in Molecular Biology. Springer New York; 2018:1-7. doi:10.1007/978-1-4939-7546-4_1
2. King LE, Farley E, Imazato M, et al. Ligand Binding Assay Critical Reagents and Their Stability: Recommendations and Best Practices from the Global Bioanalysis Consortium Harmonization Team. AAPS J. 2014;16(3):504-515. doi:10.1208/s12248-014-9583-x
3. Kift RL, Byrne C, Liversidge R, et al. The effect of storage conditions on sample stability in the routine clinical laboratory. Ann Clin Biochem Int J Lab Med. 2015;52(6):675-679. doi:10.1177/0004563215580000
4. Kuselman I, Pennecchi F, Fajgelj A, Karpov Y. Human errors and reliability of test results in analytical chemistry. Accreditation Qual Assur. 2013;18(1):3-9. doi:10.1007/s00769-012-0934-y