Liquid Handling Robots

There are a number of liquid handling tasks performed in DNA typing laboratories during the DNA extraction, PCR setup, and PCR amplification analysis steps. These liquid handling tasks are typically performed with manual pipet-tors by a DNA technician or analyst. Small volumes of liquids are repeatedly moved from one tube to another. These repetitive tasks can lead to mistakes as laboratory personnel get tired or become careless.

By introducing automated liquid handling with robotics, the level of human error can be greatly reduced. Computers and robotics do the same task the same way time after time without getting tired. The challenge though lies in setting up the automation and maintaining it (Hale 1999). The most likely place where liquid handling automation will be used in the future is with the high volume sample processing of convicted offender samples for computer DNA databases (see Chapter 18).

There are a number of popular liquid handling robotic systems that are commercially available. Beckman Coulter, Hamilton Company, MWG Biotech, QIAGEN, and Tecan market popular liquid handling robots. Appendix III contains contact information with these manufacturers. Each robotic system has different capabilities and should be carefully assessed in order to meet the needs and goals of one's own laboratory environment (see Crouse and Conover 2003).

The Beckman Biomek 2000 robot has been used in conjunction with DNA IQ and AluQuant chemistries (see Chapter 3) from the Promega Corporation to enable automated isolation and quantification of DNA samples (Tereba et al. 2003). Sexual assault (mixed stain) samples, cigarette butts, blood stains, buccal swabs, and various tissue samples were successfully extracted with the Biomek 2000 and the DNA IQ system without any evidence of contamination throughout extensive validation studies (Greenspoon et al. 2004). Hayn et al. (2004) demonstrated that the AluQuant assay worked well for DNA quantification on the Biomek 2000. Robotic liquid handling for steps of DNA extraction, quantification, PCR amplification setup, and preparation of sample plates for STR typing will likely become more prevalent in forensic laboratories particularly as the need for higher-volume work increases.

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