The past 30 years have seen an astonishing rate of growth in automation to aid in research and drug development. From instruments such as basic microplate readers, liquid handlers, grippers, and incubators, to highly advanced instrumentation such as high content imagers, the microplate-automation relationship has always played a critically important role.
The relationship between microplates and the equipment used to run the experiment is fundamental to any assay ranging from low to high throughput. By not appreciating this dynamic, resulting data will be less robust, CVs will be increased and there will be more opportunities for false results. For instance, if a researcher wants to perform a fluorescence-based assay, selecting a clear microplate would result in not only high background but also crosstalk between wells resulting in inferior data. Additionally, if the microplate reader is optimized for a 384 well normal volume microplate and a researcher attempts to analyze a 384 well low volume microplate, the microplate dimensions and focal plane will be inaccurate leading to suboptimal results. Factors such as those listed above and others (e.g., liquid handling) are critical to understand when optimizing any assay.
The following describes the importance of choosing the correct microplate for an assay, as well as optimizing the reader for the microplate. Additionally, the importance of proper liquid handling and how inaccurate dispensing of a sample may negatively impact the results is presented. The goal is to arm researchers with the tools needed to develop successful assays by providing a better understanding of the relationship between microplates, assays, and instrumentation.