Real-time PCR instruments are a significant investment that can shape what sort of genetics research is possible in your lab for years to
come. Therefore, it is essential to choose the right device for your needs, keeping an eye on your immediate and future plans. Here are some factors to consider when choosing a new real-time PCR device for your laboratory.
Will I need flexible formats?
Real-time PCR instrument heating blocks are compatible with a single reaction plate format, most commonly 96-well or 384-well. Some instrument models have a fixed heating block that cannot be removed. Other models have interchangeable blocks that are easily switched with another block format. Fixed-block devices are typically less expensive and are ideal for labs that require a single plate format or that intend to have a separate instrument for other block formats. Interchangeable-block instruments work well for labs that need the flexibility to switch between formats or require high throughput formats such as TaqMan™ Array Cards or OpenArray™ plates.
Will I need multiplexed PCR capability?
Virtually any real-time PCR device can capably handle simple experiments, but more complex or specialized applications might require particular models. Multiplex qPCR, for example, involves using multiple sets of primers, each tagged with a different fluorescent dye, in a single run. Analyzing multiple amplicons in a single reaction increases experimental throughput and decreases precious sample utilization. Multiplexed PCR requires a real-time PCR system whose detectors and filters can recognize and distinguish multiple emission spectra in a single reaction. Therefore, it is worth checking whether the detection range of an instrument encompasses your preferred dyes. The instrument detection range is also important for incorporating quality control mechanisms, like ROX, into your real-time PCR workflow.
Learn more: What is multiplex qPCR?
What features make it easy to use the instrument?
Real-time PCR devices have different shapes, dimensions, features, and interface styles. Because each user has unique preferences, testing out different models is a good way to find one that feels intuitive and easy to navigate.
Many purchasing decisions are partly dictated by available bench space, particularly in small or crowded laboratories. In these situations, the instrument l footprint and requirement for an attached computer might be more critical than other factors. An ideal real-time PCR system is free of sharp corners, overhangs, and exposed parts that could snag on clothing or other items and is easily cleaned to avoid contamination and prevent damage from spills. Depending on the lab, quiet operation and low energy consumption may also be a priority.
Rich instrument features can also enhance your workflow efficiency and analysis capabilities. For example, you may want to optimize annealing temperatures for different assays on a single plate and require an instrument equipped with VeriFlex™ Zones, or you may need to perform High Resolution Melting (HRM) analysis. Or, maybe you want to maximize efficiency through technology and value smart features like RFID-tagged plates that automatically upload assay and run information or hands-free operation using voice and facial recognition.
Will I need automation?
Automation improves a laboratory’s capacity utilization dramatically by enabling qPCR runs without human intervention, thereby maximizing data generation and freeing up skilled laboratory personnel for other tasks. When only a small number of people can use a laboratory simultaneously, automation keeps the output high while leaving laboratory capacity open for others.
Automation also enhances results reproducibility and improves data quality by increasing processing uniformity and removing some human error from the real-time PCR process, particularly during sample handling and loading/unloading. Laboratories that already perform large quantities of real-time PCR or anticipate their need for PCR capacity increasing benefit from setting up their real-time PCR system with automation in mind. Automation is, however, expensive, so laboratories that anticipate less frequent real-time PCR needs can get the results they need without setting up an automated workflow.
Learn More: Lab Automation
Will I need to incorporate my instrument into a LIMS system?
Some real-time PCR systems can integrate directly with a laboratory information management system (LIMS). LIMS enables instruments to receive information from and deliver data to a central repository, often accessible remotely. Users can process data off of the device itself, or the device can do some processing (such as setting up standard curves) on its own, or both. More robust systems can even perform automatic data validity tests and flag anomalous results that require additional attention, saving substantial time over manually scanning data sets. LIMS integration reduces human error and enhances quality control efforts and is a worthwhile investment that pays off whether a real-time PCR instrument runs five assays in a week or 500. Additionally, remotely accessing the LIMS reduces the amount of time that users must remain in the lab, which is an essential consideration in the age of social distancing.
Devices and protocols that connect to the internet also need to worry about data security. Whether to protect against directed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, prevent data from being stolen or tampered with, or protect devices and cloud storage sites from roving malware, data security is a critical part of the connected laboratory. For more information, read Thermo Fisher Scientific’s Connect Security Guide.
Learn More: Laboratory Information Management Systems
What are the service, support, and maintenance options?
Machines require maintenance to continue running and can break down. The kinds and levels of support available for particular models or from particular providers should be a purchasing consideration. Thermo Fisher Scientific offers detailed installation assistance and in-person and digital training. Buyers interested in a LIMS or an automation protocol should also consider the ease of integrating their device with these systems. Installation assistance should include connecting devices to these systems and troubleshooting support.
For Research Use Only. Not for use in diagnostic procedures.