A Compelling Look at Liquid Handling for Microplate Assays

Microplate assays play a crucial role in scientific research and diagnostics. By allowing researchers to perform high-throughput screenings efficiently, the method becomes essential for large-scale experiments, such as drug discovery, where thousands of compounds need to be tested rapidly.

In many microplate-based assays, there is a crucial wash step that plays a significant role in sample preparation and data accuracy.

During the wash step, the fluid (such as reagents, buffers, or unwanted substances) in the microplate well needs to be removed. This process is called aspiration. After aspiration, the microplate well is emptied of the original fluid. Now, it’s time to add a replacement fluid (e.g., a fresh buffer, a specific reagent, or a washing solution). The process of adding the replacement fluid is called dispensing.

The aspiration and dispense steps are critical for maintaining the integrity of microplate-based assays, ensuring accurate results, and optimising workflow efficiency. These labour-intensive procedures can be efficiently automated using instruments that can both wash and dispense reagents on a single hardware platform.

Complete removal or replacement of the original fluid often requires multiple iterations or cycles of aspiration and dispense. After the final aspiration of a wash protocol is completed, often the next step in the assay protocol is the addition of a specific reagent

For example, ELISA reactions are antibody-based reactions that use a series of binding reactions to quantify specific analytes. With a typical ELISA protocol, repeated cycles of microplate washing, reagent addition, and incubation are executed to add specific reagents and to remove unbound material before data collection. When performed manually, this process requires a technician to manage the timing and be available to move plates between the washer and multiple dispensers.


What is needed is the utility of an instrument with both washing and dispensing capabilities within the context of widely used applications.


The Agilent BioTek 406 FX is a modular system and is fully programmable from either its built-in touch screen or using Agilent BioTek Liquid Handling Control (LHC) software on an attached PC. The 406 FX is an automated microplate processor that can perform microplate washing steps in 96-, 384-, and 1536-well microplates. In addition to standard wash routines, the 406 FX has built-in cell-washing capabilities. An internal buffer-switching valve allows for the selection of up to four different wash buffers without changing bottles. A built-in sonicator provides the capability for automated cleaning maintenance of the dispense manifold.

Agilent BioTek 406 FX Washer Dispenser


There are compelling reasons for wanting to make use of a single instrument for these functions. Having both functions in one instrument reduces the need for manual intervention and minimises the time spent switching between different devices. This can improve workflow which then also improves efficiency. A single instrument saves space and is often more cost-effective than buying separate washers and dispensers. Finally, integrated liquid handlers ensure consistent aspiration and dispensing techniques across all wells. This consistency improves data quality and reduces variability.

The advantages of an instrument like Agilent BioTek 406 FX create opportunities for labs to not only improve their operations, it also allow them to offer high-quality analysis output, greater accuracy, and cost-effectiveness. Chemetrix is able to work with your lab to determine the best solution for your needs and ensure that your liquid handling requirements are fulfilled. Speak to one of our consultants today.