Last time I had Laurent Chausset in videocall, he insisted on the benefits of automation in the laboratory, then I thought: This may help other researchers, let's write about it!
Laurent is the R&D director of Marionnet Label, european leader in Berry fruit seedlings and pioneers in biotechnology. Like most of our customers, he sees the benefits of having automated their laboratory and integrated to their central information system: Less errors, saving time, and lower cost in the end.
If you wonder why add automation to your lab, you are on the right page !
Lab activities, keystone of modern plant research
The laboratory brings researchers fast information for their decision making. One of the challenges plant breeders and testers are facing is to feed sample lists and generate lab result files in a standardized format. Another challenge is to improve the communication and the workflow between laboratory technicians and breeders, to share efficiently information and link phenotype and genetic information.
I'm not sure you realize the amounts of information in various files formats exchanged between the R&D activities and the laboratory. Samples to analyze come with a whole lot of information on the material, environment and sampling conditions. Lab instruments generate huge amounts of information.
That’s why this is crucial to build IT bridges between laboratory and research department, through laboratory automation in a collaborative system that centralizes and standardizes all the information exchanges.
In this article we will see 3 examples of processes where exchanges of information can be enhanced by automation in the laboratory:
- Sample handling in vegetable seedling production
- Data workflow, notably for Molecular Markers
- Tracking biotech operations in Double Haploidization
Are you facing other tricky lab processes integrated with breeding activities?
Let's discuss together how it can be optimized :
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Sample management with laboratory automation tools
Breeders and laboratories are interacting every single day, constantly exchanging samples and data. IT tools within the research information system automatically generate an identifier for each material, and labels facilitating information exchanges between the laboratory and the breeder who use the same material. Such codification ensures the traceability of every material.
Within the seed company Gautier Semences, the laboratory activity has also been totally integrated to RnDExperience™ research IT system, notably to screen Tomato seedling disease resistances:
“We’ve saved time with this optimization and the risk of errors has been reduced. The whole team is happy about it !” Gautier Semences' biotech manager
The laboratory automation process of the plant breeding software allows to manage user’s profiles and their access rights, enabling notably blind analysis: Technicians will not get the access to the origins of samples and so they will make objective analysis and avoid biased results.
Bar-codes also facilitate manual identification system and accelerates samples inventory for the shipment, for instance.
Data workflow optimized by lab automation
Data worflow isn't just the latest buzz word in applied research !
It deals with what people do (work), what they share (data) and most of all how smooth this information gets exchanged (flow).
Optimize data workflow saves time, avoids Excel file transfer and thus reduces the risk of handling mistakes.
Let's dive into the information exchanges during a Molecular Marker analysis on Cotton breeding at DBN-Biotech Center: Researchers fill in a MM form in the research information system, then the lab manager proceeds to analysis and enters directly the results in the information system. Results are instantly available for researchers to combine with other information sources (e.g. phenotyping, environment... ), without needing to export any information from a spreadsheet. An integrated and centralized IT system enables a high interoperability between the various lab data sources: Molecular, genetical, in vivo observations, environmental etc...
A smooth data workflow also saves time and avoids wrong manipulations. For instance, new workers in the laboratory can just follow the steps which are already configured on the laboratory automation. Don't miss also our best tips to share research work throughout the R&D department !
Laboratory automation saves time on repetitive tasks, to capture and to store automatically information from a sequencer, from a LIMS and to get sample plates in the right order for analytical tests.
“With the plant breeding software, I am able to define and configure easily different protocols, and I can set functions in order to define unique experiments.” Zhang He, RnDExp™ Administrator at Da Bei Nong Biotech Center in Shenzhen, China.
Automation in the laboratory to track biotech operations
You may know that creating a new variety of plant takes about 10 years. Several biotech solutions can save a few years, such as the chemical technique called "double haploidization". I'm not giving all details here, but if you are curious you can watch the replay video 3 tips to optimize your Double Haploid management.
As a DH production manager, when you work with a single technician, it is pretty easy to track operations and monitor the biotech activity on paper or Excel spreadsheet. But when you work with 5, 10, 20 technicians, this task can quickly become tricky: The number of collaborators, the number and types of files to be processed, standardize processes. All these factors can amplify the difficulty for a manager to understand and optimize his DH production.
I am not saying spreadsheets are bad things…on the contrary they are great tools for number crunching. But if you have lot of information you may benefit from automation in the laboratory. Here's why you should consider replacing spreadsheets with a central information system to track your biotech operations :
- Centralize your lab information to share information quickly and effectively. Standardize your processes and data from multiples sources, remove duplicates, improve the quality and homogeneity of your data. Then you get faster access to more accurate laboratory information.
- Optimize your lab processes: Spend more time on high-value activities, and less time cleaning laboratory information. Better information management procedures generate higher-quality information, which leads to better decision-making.
- Secure laboratory information: A data management system provides a better enforcement of privacy and security policies. No more information split into many files, you benefit from consistent and reliable information. You can be sure that an accurate view of your laboratory data is shared within your organization.
Now what can we do with this data?
It helps you identify which laboratory processes are worthy to enhance. And what gain we can expect from it:
- Detect improvement opportunities. Which step of your lab workflow? I can you do it a better way?
- Evaluate potential gains, tangible ROI with your resources, cost, time spent or intangible ROI decision making, security, teamwork…
- For all the stakeholders, justify the benefits of the change to managers.
To go further, check our e-book 10 KPIs to monitor your plant breeding activity.
Automation in the laboratory: To go further
Store and manage voluminous data in a research information system with suitable IT architecture and storing facilities are crucial to optimize performances. A prerequisite is to centralize all kinds of research activities into one system.
For instance, if you centralize breeding activities, lab activities and product development you will allow researchers to combine information from every department and determine some correlations or links between this research information. Various reports such as Word, PDF or Excel reports enable to industrialize and standardize the communication of the results.
In a nutshell, centralize all information into one system helps work in real time, compile data, get better results and ensure smooth collaboration between the lab and the rest of the R&D department.
Doriane’s objective is to improve breeding programs and facilitate the exchange of information between laboratories and researchers: The plant scoring app RnDExp® Mobile enables fast and safe data collection of observations and measurements. The plant breeding software RnDExperience® centralizes all the R&D department information and processes, thus avoids all type of mistakes during the transfer of information.
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