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Assay development challenge results

Our blog

24 April, 2019

Announcing the #SLAS2019 Assay Development Challenge Results

#assaydevelopment is a time consuming, iterative process whereby we are challenged with addressing a plethora of different variables in order to ensure a robust assay is put forward for screening. Finding optimal conditions for concentrations and dilutions of assay components, not to mention incubation times and temperatures, can be maddening. Now I don’t know about you, but I’ve always found that just thinking about all the calculations involved in these processes can give me a head-ache! Nonetheless, we plod on through these steps - for the betterment of science.

But what if you didn’t have to think about the calculations? (Or if you’re like me, you simply didn’t want to!) What if you didn’t have to remember to change the dispense volume and tips on your pipette every time you change reagents? What if you could explore even more variables in a single plate – without having to worry about missing a well, or developing RSI?

I know what you’re thinking, “I’m excellent with a pipette and calculations are simple for me!” You likely are a superhero in the lab, but we asked a few friendly scientists to prove to us that they could do better than our dragonfly discovery and designer software in a hand versus robot competition. We had so much fun with the contest at SLAS 2019, we just had to share the results with you before announcing our next SLAS EU 2019 challenge!

Now, here is the disclaimer…we realize that pipetting faster than a robot is not a real competition, so in tasks 2 and 3, we gave dragonfly discovery a rather large handicap! For a bit of added entertainment, we included some of our in-house applications scientists and territory managers too.

And the results are in…

dragonfly discovery assay dev challenge bannerChallenge 1: calculate the volumes required for a serial dilution faster than designer software


name challenge affiliation time
Klaus calculation TTP Labtech 00:52
David calculation TTP Labtech 03:49
dragonfly discovery calculation TTP Labtech 00:50

Now at first glance, the dragonfly results don’t look too impressive…..but this challenge represented the one of simplest possible gradients an assay development scientist could ever face! Our designer software can do so much more and I guarantee the lovely Klaus D would be left standing at the start line when it comes to calculating n-fold, ad-hoc, or vertical/horizontal/diagonal gradients across a plate using multiple components.

Challenge 2: create a 2-fold serial dilution then pipette into row A of a 96-well plate


name challenge affiliation time
David serial dilution TTP Labtech 01:15 to complete a single row of a 96-well plate
Anne serial dilution TTP Labtech 02:30 to complete a single row of a 96-well plate
Christina M. serial dilution Merck 01:03 to complete a single row of a 96-well plate
dragonfly discovery serial dilution TTP Labtech 01:15 to complete a full 96-well plate

So, this is where the first of the handicaps come in……dragonfly discovery was asked to fill a full 96-well plate with n=8 replicates and completed the task in the same time that just one row was completed by the ninja fast David L. In case you are curious we measured dragonfly discovery’s dispense time for a full 384 well microplate too, an impressive 1:40. Importantly, for dragonfly discovery’s direct dilution approach, there is no possibility to build up, or accumulative error across the microplate when pipetting at speed.

Challenge 3: ad-hoc randomised dispensing of 4 different liquids into 12 wells.


name challenge affiliation time
David DoE TTP Labtech 01:08 to fill a 96-well plate
Anne DoE TTP Labtech 01:57 to fill a 96-well plate
Julia O. DoE Merck 01.02 to fill a 96-well plate
Scott M. DoE Merck 01:28 to fill a 96-well plate
Richard DoE TTP Labtech 01:14 to fill a 96-well plate
dragonfly discovery DoE TTP Labtech 01:15 to fill a 1,536-well plate

Now this looks simple right, pipette the appropriate coloured liquid into the correct 12 wells of a 96-well microplate. Well it might be relatively easy in a 96-well plate but how do you feel about dispensing into a 1,536 well format? Also, this simple task is not truly representative of how a user would set up an assay as you wouldn’t just vary one factor at a time. To make this more interesting, we asked dragonfly discovery to perform an ad hoc dispense to generate the following layout.

This type of layout is required for DoE, where randomisation is a key aspect of the experimental setup and it took just 1:15 to complete the challenge. I rest my case!dfd_assay_dev_challenge

Anyway, back to the humans! The winner of our SLAS2019 assay development challenge... Christina (Tina) M. from Merck winnerCongratulations to Christina (Tina) M. from Merck! Well done Tina, we hope you enjoy your giant microbe and look forward to seeing you again soon! You’ll have to let us know how you get on with the dragonfly discovery in your lab and if there are any challenges you want to add to the competition in the future.

Speaking of the future, we have a brand-new challenge for SLAS Europe 2019, 26-28thJune in sunny Barcelona. Challenge details will be released soon via our SLAS Europe 2019 events page.