A real-time PCR cycler can be a significant investment for a lab, and if you’re responsible for the purchase decision you’ll want to do your due diligence and make a future-proof choice. So where do you begin your search?
Two key questions when comparing qPCR cyclers
A real-time PCR cycler amplifies and quantifies specific nucleic-acid sequences within the same machine. While PCR technology has been around since 1983, the past few years have provided far greater choice and flexibility when it comes to selecting a product.
To find clarity in the mix, it pays to ask two key questions when seeking out the right choice for your lab.
What is your typical experimental approach?
Quantitative PCR or qPCR is used for the purposes of genotyping, research into genetic expression or variation as well as the detection of particular bacteria and viruses. Most recently, qPCR has played a critical role in the testing and diagnostics of COVID-19. Before you make your equipment choice, consider your lab setup and approach including how many reactions will typically be running in a single experiment, and how often runs will be completed. Your choice of qPCR cycler should align with the lab’s experimental approach, to minimise the risk of over- or under-investing in your new piece of lab equipment.
How and where will the qPCR cycler be in operation?
qPCR cyclers have traditionally been heavy and unwieldy pieces of equipment, but modern products provide far greater flexibility in terms of operating environments. Perhaps your new cycler will be supporting research out in a mobile lab, at the point of care or on the side of a mountain. If so, portability and scalability are going to be particularly important factors for your lab.
Factors that matter when choosing a real-time PCR cycler
Consider the following factors when comparing and shortlisting different PCR cyclers. These are listed in no particular order, as their relevance can vary based on unique lab environments.
Throughput & scalability
The throughput of a real-time PCR cycler depends on the number of wells on the instrument, which can range from 48 up to over 1,000 wells. If your lab is running thousands of samples per day, a mini qPCR machine likely won’t be a suitable choice. But if you’re batching samples over weeks or months to avoid running into reproducibility issues, consider a scalable solution like Mic qPCR cycler. Up to 10 of these 48-well cyclers can be connected as needed with excellent reproducibility, allowing you to scale your lab equipment flexibly as budget and bench space allows.
A portable real-time PCR cycler can give your lab a genuine advantage if you’re testing or diagnosing out in the field. Perhaps you’re looking for a portable PCR machine for COVID-19 testing, or simply want to free up valuable bench space in the lab. Portability comes down to:
- Physical size and footprint
Where a typical modern cycler might come in at a decent 30 x 45cm footprint, the Mic qPCR cycler from Bio Molecular Systems can easily be carried and placed with its compact dimensions of 15 x 15cm x 13cm.
- Power source options
Will the cycler need to be operated using a battery or inverter system in a mobile lab? Different cyclers will have different power source configurations, so be sure to consider this before purchasing.
- Operating environments
Air conditioning isn’t always a viable option in a mobile lab, so pay attention to the operating temperature ranges of potential qPCR cyclers. Mic suits a generous range in temperatures of 18 to 30ºC and relative humidity of between 20 and 80%.
- Service requirements
A cycler is less practical for remote lab work if it will require regular servicing from a specialist. There are select options, like the Mic cycler, that don’t require servicing at all. This frees up operating flexibility and could also save your facility thousands of dollars per year.
Speed may not be an important factor for all laboratories, but slow run cycles can often slow down research and diagnostics where time is of the essence. The Mic thermocycler is the world’s first magnetic induction cycler, which uses magnetic induction to heat samples evenly. When paired with fan forced air cooling, this enables rapid heating and cooling with accurate cycles in as little as 25 minutes. Reducing each run time can add up to notable time and cost savings over the course of a year.
Diagnostic sensitivity and dynamic range
Any cycler is only as good as its quantitative precision, so consider the sensitivity and dynamic range of a cycler before any new purchase. Researchers may need to quantify small differences for relative gene expression, determining genotypes or measuring viral load. A cycler that offers a wide linear dynamic range improves the ability to detect high and low copy numbers of the target. Magnetic induction can offer benefits for accuracy too, because with the Mic thermocycler all samples are uniformly heated.
Support for your workflow
Your lab’s workflow can have a huge impact on whether lab funding meets its full potential. Even small improvements and automations can help to reduce time-draining and repetitive tasks. Features such as Bluetooth connectivity, integration with pipetting systems and flexible software can significantly free up precious time. Consider the level of automation and integration you’ll require in your system, and how you might minimise double handing of data.
For example, the Mic automated thermal cycler connects with the Myra pipetting robot in real time through intuitive software. Built-in data storage and recovery means that data is kept safe even if the qPCR cycler is disconnected. Each run becomes a simple, streamlined process and results can be analysed sooner as a result.
In summary: choosing your real-time PCR cycler
Before investing in a new real-time PCR cycler, it’s worth considering these factors and any others that will affect day-to-day lab use.
It’s also wise to take advantage of any product demos or trial periods on offer. To experience Bio Molecular System’s magnetic induction cycler in your own lab, contact your closest Mic distributor today.