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Liquid handling – making the essential, exceptional

Our blog

09 January, 2015

Liquid handling: making the essential, exceptional

Tackling the tiny for big results

You know how some people just love solving puzzles? Well, that’s us! Our products are borne out of an innate desire to solve problems and a passion for excellence. The confidence we have in our products has led to our reputation for great customer support with our mantra of ‘if a customer is not happy, we are not happy!’ This is reflected in our products that target specific challenges faced by those at the bench.

One of the major difficulties in science is the ability (or lack thereof!) to dispense small volumes of liquids with a high degree of accuracy. When you’re working with tiny quantities, down to the nanoliter range, it can be tricky. Manipulating these exceedingly small amounts requires rigorous engineering, something that is not always easy to achieve – even small inaccuracies at this level will have a significant impact on your assay results. Yet with reagents frequently being both expensive and in limited supply, assay miniaturisation is an important goal, especially in the realms of high throughput screening (HTS), protein crystallography, and next generation sequencing (NGS).

assay-ready plate set by mosquito

assay-ready plate set by mosquito


A sticky issue

One challenge for accuracy is that all liquids were not created equal. If you’ve ever tried to pipette milliliters of liquids such as glycerol, polyethylene glycol, or some detergents, you know how hard it can be, so sub-microliter volumes are difficult to handle!

Pipetting viscous liquids can result in a major reduction in accuracy due to a number of issues.


  • If the tip is withdrawn from the liquid too soon, an air bubble can be drawn into the tip, which reduces the volume of liquid aspirated
  • Air bubbles introduced when pipetting detergents can be particularly problematic, as they often cause foaming
  • A liquid film can remain on the tip leading to volumetric inaccuracies and possible cross-contamination.

These were the challenges experienced by researchers that gave us the impetus and drive to develop our mosquito® range of automated liquid handlers.

Innovative solutions

Innovation is about looking at a problem with a fresh perspective. At TTP Labtech this is exactly what we’ve been doing.

Our product portfolio was originally developed from the idea that you could perform your assay on a continuous well tape feeding into our imaging system using a continuous reel of tips for the pipetting. After listening to customers’ feedback, we decoupled the products, resulting in the birth of mosquito – the success of which made liquid handling a separate arm of our company, and one of our best-known areas of expertise.

Building on the idea of well tape, we incorporated a unique continuous tip feed into mosquito’s design, rather than using tip boxes, to make tip changing and storage efficient. The tips themselves use positive displacement technology, which not only brings a unique approach to liquid handling, but also significantly improves accuracy, especially when handling viscous liquids. Because the tips are on a quick-change continuous feed, their disposal is automated which also limits the risk of sample contamination.

Following mosquito’s success, we took our knowledge of liquid handling devices, alongside the further needs of our customers and developed something new: the dragonfly®. Our positive displacement liquid handling approach was directed towards optimisation screens, which require many different types and quantities of liquids to be dispensed in each well. dragonfly can dispense up to 10 widely different liquids simultaneously and directly into assay plates with no contact and a very large dynamic range of 0.5 µL to 4 mL – so you can put away your multiple manual pipettes and set up automated pipetting that will increase the accuracy and precision of your assay!

We’ve taken liquid handling – something that is wholly essential in most labs, and yet often limiting, and applied our extensive knowledge to develop a series of products that take into account the requirements and problems that our customers experience in the lab. Whether you’re involved in crystallography, drug discovery or general bench work, it’s likely our liquid handling devices can help improve your research quality!

An efficient dilution

At the SLAS 2015 conference, our team will be explored the importance of accurate and reliable liquid handling for serial dilutions in drug screening and its effects on assay performance! Our poster, Miniaturized serial dilution of compounds: essential for ultrahigh throughput screening (uHTS) drug discovery illustrates using both phosphatase activity assays and kinase profiling. We describe how these assays are rapid and accurate yielding equivalent results to larger volume set-ups and with greatly reduced dead volumes. An additional benefit of these automated low volume set-ups is the ability to reduce the DMSO concentrations in the compounds which can disrupt assay performance.

Your research at the heart of development

At TTP Labtech we are dedicated to developing unique, pioneering solutions to problems faced by researchers rather than developing a range of ‘me too’ devices.

Discover more about TTP Labtech in our eBook:
“lab automation: innovative tools that drive discovery”