How it Works: Automated Purification of Nucleic Acids and Proteins

Until the mid-1980s, purification of nucleic acids was traditionally performed by phenol-chloroform extraction and alcohol precipitation, which involved tedious manual tasks with toxic substances. This approach was soon replaced by the introduction of spin-column technology.

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Problem: Until the mid-1980s, purification of nucleic acids was traditionally performed by phenol-chloroform extraction and alcohol precipitation, which involved tedious manual tasks with toxic substances. This approach was soon replaced by the introduction of spin-column technology, cutting the process down to a few simple steps: lysis of the starting material, binding of nucleic acids to a membrane in the spin column, washing and elution of the nucleic acids. The procedure cuts the processing time to less than an hour, but also standardizes the extraction process, making it the gold standard in all molecular biology laboratories. However, researchers continue to struggle with both time and resources. They need to stay focused on producing results and performing data analysis rather than carrying out repetitive manual workflow steps, such as processing multiple spin-column batches per day. The repetitive nature of these tasks can also make the procedure prone to human error.

Solution: An automated system, such as the QIAcube from QIAGEN, can do the same purification without all the manual steps. It is designed around spin-column technology and includes an integrated self-positioning centrifuge, a heatable shaker and a pipette system with a robotic column gripper. The robot mimics exactly the same procedure from lysis, binding and washing through to the elution without a change in the chemistry or protocol. This allows researchers to stick with well-established and reliable spin columns, but eliminates the need for tedious and repetitive manual steps.

The scientist simply provides the QIAcube with up to 12 samples and chooses the protocol of the integrated software. At this point, the automated instrument takes over. It adds the lysis buffer, pipettes the lysate onto the column and centrifuges the sample. After automatic washing, the sample is recovered with water or the appropriate buffer. The lysis of some samples requires heating, which is also fully automated, since the shaker can achieve and maintain sample temperatures of up to 70°C.

By automating the purification process, hands-on time can be reduced by 80 percent or more, enabling scientists to direct more of their time toward generating results and analyzing data, while at the same time offering standardization and virtually eliminating potential human errors.

The QIAcube is a benchtop system that is operated by an integrated touch screen and allows the automation of one to 12 samples at a time. It can be operated by anyone—from the novice to the expert—without the need for costly retraining of laboratory personnel.

 

More than 50 different manual spin column kits for the extraction of DNA, RNA and proteins can be automated with a variety of 100-plus standard protocols. The pure nucleic acids or proteins are ready to use in many downstream applications, such as RT-PCR, gene expression profiling or protein characterization studies.

For more information, visit www.qiagen.com

Categories: How it Works

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Maximizing ROI

Published: January 1, 2011

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Maximizing ROI

By using metrics effectively, laboratory managers can better focus their R&D efforts and be more effective in improving their firms' sales and profitability. This is essential, now more than ever, given the slow recovery from the "Great Recession."