From expression analysis and cloning to RNA structure studies and molecular diagnostics, RNA extraction forms the first step in many important applications. In fact, RNA extraction is a fundamental procedure in reverse transcriptase quantitative PCR (RT-qPCR) – the gold standard for COVID-19 testing.
Consequently, since the start of the pandemic billions of RNA extractions have been performed for COVID-19 testing and although most labs won’t be handling billions of samples, high throughput analysis has become increasingly important over recent years.
Along with the gargantuan number of RNA extractions, comes an infinite number of pipetting and manual handling steps, each presenting an opportunity for error and contamination; not to mention the huge amount of time and labour required.
Automated RNA extraction can overcome many of these limitations. By handing over control to a pipetting robot, you can increase the accuracy and reproducibility of your results, dramatically increase productivity, and save an inordinate amount of time. Here, we expand on 5 advantages of automated RNA extraction.
1. Save time & increase throughput
Almost every life science team member, from scientist to technician, has sat frustrated in front of a microtiter plate, pipette in hand, contemplating the time and undivided attention required to carry out the experiment successfully.
Automated RNA extraction eliminates this scenario, allowing scientists to simply push a button and walk away. Additionally, robots are typically faster pipettors than humans and may even process multiple samples at once. This can be a great benefit in biopharma or diagnostic laboratories especially where the ability to process large numbers of samples quickly is paramount. With a robot that takes care of your repetitive work, you’re able to focus on other important aspects of your science !
With more samples being processed at a greater speed, there is a greater opportunity to increase your sample size for more efficient diagnostics or even extend the scope of your research. For instance, if the ultimate goal of your RNA extraction is expression analysis, you could explore a greater number of conditions that have the potential to modulate transcription. In a biopharma laboratory, a larger sample pool means you can investigate more potential targets in less time and if you’re working in a diagnostics laboratory then automation helps ensure efficient and accurate diagnoses.
If you want to process samples even quicker, innovative RNA extraction technology is making this possible. For instance, BioEcho has developed an innovative single-step RNA extraction technique which can be semi-automated for extractions up to 3 times faster than conventional silica-based methods.
Discover more about EchoLUTION rapid nucleic acid extraction technology here.
2. Reduce error & increase reproducibility
The proverb ‘to err is human’ expresses that it is natural for human beings to make mistakes. And, no matter your experience in a lab or familiarity with a specific protocol, sometimes mistakes can happen.
These chances for error amplify as protocols are shared between colleagues or across laboratories. Whether you’re trying to replicate a protocol from a peer-reviewed paper or your colleagues’ scribbled notes, there’s plenty of room for interpretation – and this can translate to variability between experiments, operators or laboratories.
Automating RNA extractions reduces the number of human ‘touch points’ and consequently, minimizes the chances for human error, particularly when it comes to pipetting small volumes and/or viscous samples. Moreover, programmable, automated extraction protocols can be shared within and across laboratories, leading to greater data accuracy, consistency, and reliability.
3. Clean-up your act: reducing contamination
RNases are the archenemy to successful RNA extraction. These enzymes catalyze the degradation of RNA and can completely destroy your samples in a very short time. What’s more, they’re everywhere! So, avoiding RNase contamination is a high priority during any RNA isolation protocol.
By automating RNA extraction and minimizing manual handling steps, the risk of contamination is significantly reduced. It not only helps keep your precious RNA samples safe from degradative enzymes but also from contaminating RNA that could lead to erroneous results in your downstream applications.
4. Nothing to report? That’s because it’s automated!
Alongside processing a large number of samples, scientists are generally expected to maintain a meticulous, well-organized lab notebook. But we’ve all been caught short halfway through a protocol - reaching for a scrap of paper to scribble down an important but easily forgotten detail.
With automated RNA extraction, each step of the process is automatically recorded and stored electronically. So, when it comes to writing up your experimental design, you can be confident that all those important details are always at your fingertips. And, if collaboration is key, methods and programmes are easily and accurately shared between labs. So whether you’re simply transferring a protocol or looking to scale up, automating your workflow should be a priority .
5. Pipetting is a pain so reduce repetitive strain
From the perspective of an untrained eye, pipetting may not appear very taxing. However, hunching over a microtiter plate for potentially hours at a time can easily lead to neck and back problems, pain and stiffness in your hands and fatigue. Work-related injuries can impact productivity, increase the risk of experimental error, and incur costs due to medical leave.
Even more concerning is that fact that syndromes like repetitive strain injury (RSI) often result from excessive pipetting and may potentially become crippling if left untreated. So, why risk RSI when a robot can take care of those repetitive tasks for you?
Limitations to Automation
While lab automation has some clear and significant benefits, it can also take considerable time to set-up protocols tailored to your application. Luckily, suppliers are increasingly developing ready-to-go kits that are compatible with automated liquid handling – such as the EchoLUTION Viral RNA/DNA Swab 96 Kit Plus from BioEcho.
Nevertheless, the high upfront cost of automation is an insurmountable barrier for many laboratories. Moreover, large projects requiring high-throughput, may be only a temporary requirement in some research labs. Consequently, the high upfront cost may not be justified. In these cases, it is still possible to reap the benefits of automation by outsourcing your high-throughput extractions.
At BioEcho, we use our extensive expertise to provide a flexible and scalable service and unrivalled support for each step of your automation workflow – from initial discussion and experimental set-up to troubleshooting and continuing optimization. Contact us to discuss your automation needs.