Innovative scientists update old-school pipetting with new-age technology

Jul 30, 2014
The 'iPipet' system converts an iPad or any tablet computer into a 'smart bench' that guides the execution of complex pipetting protocols. iPipet users can also share their pipetting designs with each other, distributing expertise across the research community. Credit: John Correa/Whitehead Institute

A team of Whitehead Institute researchers is bringing new levels of efficiency and accuracy to one of the most essential albeit tedious tasks of bench science: pipetting. And, in an effort to aid the scientific community at large, the group has established an open source system that enables anyone to benefit from this development free of charge.

Dubbed "iPipet," the system converts an iPad or any into a "smart bench" that guides the execution of complex pipetting protocols. iPipet users can also share their pipetting designs with each other, distributing expertise across the research community. The system, created by researchers in the lab of Whitehead Fellow Yaniv Erlich, is described in detail in a letter appearing this week in the journal Nature Methods.

Erlich says that today's experiments frequently rely on high-throughput methods that combine large numbers of samples with large scale, complex pipetting designs. Pipetting errors can lead to experimental failure. Although liquid-handling robots would seem to be a logical choice for such work, they are also extremely expensive, difficult to program, and require trained personnel. Moreover, they can be plagued by technical snafus, ranging from bent or clogged tips to an inability to capture liquids lying close to the bottoms of individual wells.

"We needed an alternative to costly robots that would allow us to execute complex pipetting protocols," says Erlich. "This is especially important when working with human samples that are often in limited supply."

iPipet illuminates individual wells of standard 96- or 384-well plates placed on top of a tablet screen, guiding users through the transfer of samples or reagents from source to destination plates according to specific designs. Users create their own protocols in Microsoft Excel files in comma-separated format and upload them to the iPipet website, which generates a downloadable link for execution on a tablet computer. Included on the iPipet site are a variety demos and an instructional video.

So, how well does iPipet work? Beautifully, according to members of the Erlich lab. In a test of the tool against a liquid-handling robot, iPipet enabled nearly 3,000 fixed-volume pipetting steps in approximately seven hours. After significant time spent on calibration, the robot accomplished only half that number of steps in the same allotted time. To date, one of the only challenges lab users have encountered is keeping well plates in a fixed position on the tablet screen. For that, Erlich's team provides a solution: a 3D printed plastic adaptor that users can create with a file accessible via the iPipet website.

"The entire iPipet system is open source," says Erlich. "We want to maximize the benefit for the community and allow them to further develop this new man-machine interface for biological experiments"

Explore further: Scientists find gene behind a highly prevalent facial anomaly

More information: Nature Methods, July 30, 2014. DOI: 10.1038/nmeth.3028

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Scientists find gene behind a highly prevalent facial anomaly

May 09, 2014

Whitehead Institute scientists have identified a genetic cause of a facial disorder known as hemifacial microsomia (HFM). The researchers find that duplication of the gene OTX2 induces HFM, the second-most common facial anomaly ...

Your next Angry Birds opponent could be a robot

Jul 10, 2014

With the help of a smart tablet and Angry Birds, children can now do something typically reserved for engineers and computer scientists: program a robot to learn new skills. The Georgia Institute of Technology ...

Simplicity is key to co-operative robots

Apr 16, 2014

A way of making hundreds—or even thousands—of tiny robots cluster to carry out tasks without using any memory or processing power has been developed by engineers at the University of Sheffield, UK.

Recommended for you

Virtual robotization for human limbs

Mar 26, 2015

Recent advances in computer gaming technology allow for an increasingly immersive gaming experience. Gesture input devices, for example, synchronise a player's actions with the character on the screen. Entertainment ...

Robots on reins could be the 'eyes' of firefighters

Mar 25, 2015

Researchers at King's College London have developed revolutionary reins that enable robots to act like guide dogs, which could enable that firefighters moving through smoke-filled buildings could save vital ...

Robot revolution will change world of work

Mar 24, 2015

Robots will fundamentally change the shape of the workforce in the next decade but many industries will still need a human touch, a QUT Future of Work Conference has heard.

Sawyer is a new face in collaborative robots

Mar 23, 2015

Sawyer is a new collaborative robot (robots that work with employees) from Boston, Massachusetts-based Rethink Robotics. In human terms, the salient feature about this robot is its friendly eyes on its "face" ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.