Bulk reagent dispensing

Reagent bulk dispensing is a mainstay of any drug discovery laboratory. Whether filling a single assay plate with aqueous buffer, or a stack of plates with viscous reagents: reagent bulk dispensing requires high precision, accuracy, speed, and versatility to support your research goals. 

Dispensing or repeated pipetting?

Bulk reagent additions can be performed by repeated pipetting or dispensing. 

When working with small numbers of, or low density plates, researchers can tackle repeated reagent transfers using either a handheld pipette or liquid handler that enables quick and easy assay plate setup. However, this approach does not scale well and is inefficient and time-consuming for multiple and high density plates, demanding large numbers of pipette tips. 

For higher throughput applications, non-contact dispensers are an ideal choice, as they can rapidly dispense reagents into a large number of plates without the need to change pipette tips. 

Positive displacement dispensing


Positive displacement dispensers are versatile tools for rapid and reliable reagent bulk fill tasks, as they offer:

  • non-contact liquid dispensing 
  • highly accurate and repeatable liquid deliveries, without the need for calibration or liquid classification
  • a high degree of application versatility
  • broad dynamic dispense range and low dead volume
  • no reliance on pipette tips

Frequently asked questions

dragonfly discovery’s patented positive displacement dispense technology delivers accurate and precise liquid volumes without splashing or spilling. It has been validated for highly sensitive applications including qPCR and NGS. Moreover, compared to fixed head or chip-based dispensers, the single use syringes carry zero risk of reagent carryover through liquid lines or washable dispense nozzles and chips.

Instruments like dragonfly discovery can handle liquid viscosities ranging from 70% ethanol through 70% glycerol using standard settings, and can handle liquids beyond this range with custom settings.

That depends on the application. Hand pipetting is still the gold standard for many laboratories handling fragile or expensive cell lines, as it enables very precise liquid control and minimises dead volumes. For higher throughput applications automated liquid dispensers are a better choice, but users should ensure their instrument dispenses uniform numbers of cells per well (essential for whole well readouts such as ATP luminescence), carries low dead volumes, and maintains high cell viability.

Not all liquid dispensers satisfy these criteria. Positive displacement dispensers such as dragonfly® discovery offer rapid and uniform cell plating, with cell viability measurements that are comparable to hand pipetting. With low dead volumes starting at just 30 µL and 1536-well plate capability, it makes light work of all cell plating tasks. Dispense velocity can be adjusted if needed for handling fragile cells.

Before investigating active or passive reagent cooling options, instrument dispense speed should be a key consideration when handling temperature sensitive reagents. Simply put, if reagents are dispensed fast enough not to significantly change temperature, then warming or cooling options become redundant.

If temperature control is required, then passive cooling/warming (e.g. through plate or reagent chillers) is cheaper and easier to implement than active temperature control. Active temperature control can be an integral part of the instrument design, but it doesn’t have to be. For example, source bottles or tubes can be actively cooled or warmed offline to the instrument and fresh reagent drawn for each new plate.

Visual inspection of the plate aside, there are two options for verifying that liquid has been dispensed into a well: Some liquid handlers have pipette tips that are capable of liquid level sensing, but this option adds a premium to the cost of the consumable.

Alternatively, standalone volume checkers use ultrasound technology to measure the height of the sample meniscus. They don’t rely on the use of specialized consumables and are capable of verifying liquid levels in as little as 30 seconds per 384 well plate.

Meet our Field Application Scientists

Our Field Application Scientists will help you to advance your research goals throughout the life of your instrument, optimizing for the applications you need and harnessing its full potential. As specialists in a range of disciplines from structural biology to genomics, the team ensures that the protocols for your applications are scientifically robust, giving you the confidence to pursue novel approaches.  Working closely with customers, Field Application Scientists eliminate bottlenecks and streamline workflows to enable successful research outcomes.

Find our more about our team

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