Tag Archives: total lab automation

“Welcome to the Future”


The excitement levels have been cranking up in our lab with the recent installation of the Kiestra Total Lab Automation system. Although we are not yet putting “live” samples through it I have been very impressed with what I have seen so far. It has exceeded my expectations and it clearly offers huge potential in terms of quality and efficiency improvements.

And I am not just saying that. If it was terrible I would say so….

I have just finished my initial basic training on the system and there are a few take home messages I have picked up from the course.

  • It is a sophisticated product already, but there is clearly more to come…. See this article
  • The more you know about the system and how it works, the more you will be able to configure it to maximise efficiency. Even though as a clinical microbiologist I won’t have too much day to day hands on involvement with the system, I fully intend to know it “inside out”
  • The better you maintain and look after it, the better it will perform, and the less likely it is to break down.

Sure it is nice to be the first microbiology lab in New Zealand to have such a system in place, but I am aware of the fact that such systems will be commonplace throughout the country in a few years time.

I feel that if as a microbiologist, you are not excited by such a system and the potential it provides, you are probably in the wrong profession.

If you have any specific questions on installing a Kiestra, just let me know and I will try and answer.

More to come on this topic!



“Smelling of roses”


Blindfold any bacteriology scientist and ask them to smell agar plates containing Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Haemophilus influenzae and Streptococcus anginosus respectively. Chances are they will give you the ID in a flash.

I am not suggesting you do this however! We would never smell plates for Health and Safety reasons, but sometimes it is difficult not to get a whiff in passing….

Along the same lines think about how a Moraxella catarrhalis moves over the surface of the agar when you give it a prod with a loop. Think about how a Eikenella corrodens buries itself into the agar…

Why am I telling you all this?

In a few months time my lab will be getting a Kiestra TLA system where the plates will no longer be hand held for visual inspection, but digitally imaged for viewing on a screen. No longer will the scientists be able (routinely) to smell the plates or move the colonies about with a plastic loop.

Some might say that this is a disadvantage when it comes to recognising bacteria. Maybe, but I believe the other advantages of moving to this sort of system far outweigh losing the ability to touch and smell the bacteria.

And if you really wanted to, you could ask the Kiestra to “call” the plates to your workbench so you can use “other senses” apart from your eyesight. I suspect this might happen quite a lot to start off with, and then become less and less common as staff gain confidence in the system.

And maybe in 20 yrs time, when everybody, everywhere, has TLA systems, we will all forget what a Pseudomonas or a Haemophilus smells like, but I doubt it….


“Perfecting the Pick-up Line”


In a recent post a month or two ago I noted that the current, so called “Total Laboratory Automation” systems still had a few gaps in them (Click here for the article), one of them being the ability to automatically pick colonies off a plate and inoculate MALDITOF plates and susceptibility broths.

It therefore came as somewhat of a surprise to me as I wandered around the Trade Exhibition at the ECCMID in Copenhagen. The sign “Automated Colony Picking” caught my eye..

And sure enough, there it was, a robotic system that could automatically pick a digitally marked colony, and inoculate a Maldi plate and a susceptibility broth. The company was called “Sci-Robotics”, and the hardware called “Pickolo”. It was being trialled at a laboratory in Italy, apparently with good success, even for small or mucoid colonies. 

The big corporates involved in bacteriology automation (you know who they are…) were showing a considerable degree of interest in the hardware!

Somehow I don’t think it will be very long before automated colony pickers are added to the big laboratory automation platforms.

In fact I don’t think it will be long (less than 10 years) before the manual work that the microbiology scientists will be performing will be restricted to the weird, the complex, and the bits and pieces which don’t easily automate.

….and that is exactly the way it should be.


Click here for a You-tube video on the automated colony picker as described above.