In a new study, scientists from Germany’s Leibniz Institute for Photonic Technology and Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena demonstrated that automated, high-throughput experiments for interdisciplinary research in life science can be replicated on a low budget by using open tools.
According to the researchers, the number of samples in biological experiments is constantly increasing, but complex protocols and human error often result in suboptimal data quality and, as a result, difficulties reproducing scientific findings. Many of these issues can be alleviated by laboratory automation, which precisely reproduces machine-readable protocols. However, because of the lack of open application programming interfaces (APIs), these instruments are notoriously difficult for scientists to customise and control outside of the vendor-supplied software.
According to the paper published in Advanced Biology, the researchers combined the open tools OpenFlexure, Opentrons, ImJoy, and UC2 to automate high-throughput experiments that can be replicated on a shoestring budget. According to the researchers, this automated sample preparation and imaging pipeline can be easily replicated and established in many laboratories as well as educational contexts using simple algorithms and simple-to-build microscopes. Furthermore, the use of feedback loops, with subsequent pipetting or imaging steps based on the analysis of previously acquired images, allows for the realisation of fully autonomous “smart” microscopy experiments.
The team emphasises that all documents and source files are publicly available in order to demonstrate the concept of smart lab automation using low-cost, open tools. This is thought to democratise access to the power and repeatability of automated experiments.