Microplate technologies have evolved over recent years, and so has the scope of applications. Single-mode systems have given rise to multi-mode platforms. Molecular imaging systems have evolved into high-content cellular imaging platforms. Technologies born under the microscope have grown into high-throughput cellular screening tools. 

The latest technologies have served to miniaturize and automate biochemical assays as well. Surface-plasmon resonance, biosensor detection, biologic screening, and others are all enabled by advanced microplate hardware and software analysis tools.

Although certainly interesting, not every device is a perfect match for the lab and the intended application(s).

Functionality, scope, scale, and throughput are four concepts to help steer the conversation over which microplate systems are available - and the right fit - for maximum laboratory performance.

Microplate Readers  

What is the intended use for the detector? Are there multiple workflows which can be merged into one device? What are the future goals of the research lab?

  • Absorbance, fluorescence, and luminescence are the most common modes of microplate detection -- covering the visible, ultraviolet, or full range light spectrum.
  • Colorimetric and intrinsic absorbance measurements, such as those needed for protein and nucleic acid quantitation, are very common uses for these devices.
  • Fluorescence can measure the reaction of a reagent with a substrate or with a protein, although intrinsic or fluorescent nucleic acid labels may also be detected with great sensitivity.
  • Luminescence can add another layer of sensitivity and flexibility over fluorescence.

Single-mode detection systems may be best suited for well validated routine applications, such as unlabelled or labelled protein or DNA quantitation, without the need for advanced or multiplexed features.

Multi-mode Microplate Readers

  • Multi-mode systems can combine two or more detection modes in a central platform, even adding specialty measurements such as time-resolved fluorescence (TRF) and fluorescence polarization (FP) to the mix.
  • Additional modules can be available as upgrades to enable Western blot, imaging, and other capabilities.
  • Plate shaking, incubation, washing, and other duties can enable complete end-to-end workflows for complex imaging, ELISA applications, and others.

While single-mode devices can perform dedicated function with relative fast speed and throughput -- multi-mode devices can combine workflows and broaden the scope of lab operations.

Cellular Imaging Systems

Once the domain of the microscope, cellular imaging and analysis has now been integrated into advanced microplate world.

  • High-content imaging and screening have been merged with flexibility and scalability. Objectives, filters, imaging and light channels, environmental and incubation conditions and more have now been built into microplate detection platforms.
  • This breadth of features equates to a range of capabilities including imaging: live cells, stem cells, plant cells, tissues slices, whole organelles, and 3-D cell matrices.
  • The ability to image such a broad range of cells and tissues translates to a vast multitude of cell-based assays, all capable by means of a central platform.
  • High-content imaging produces high density data, and innovative software solutions are designed to help make sense of the valuable, and ignore the unnecessary data.

Advanced microplate imaging features and flexibility allow the technologies to grow alongside research, creating a valuable discovery resource beyond validation, screening, and cell-based assay applications.

Biochemical Assays

Biochemical assays that were once relegated to the reaction tube, vessel, or column can now be performed in microplate format – enabling a wide-range of applications designed to speed up the discovery process.

  • Primary assays, such as those during the early stages of the small molecule or biologic development processes, often involve biomolecule interaction, catalysis, enzyme kinetics, or other cell-free activities.
  • Advanced microplate systems can now be coupled with microplates and other reagents -- and fixed with reactants, substrates, or indicators.
  • Reactions can be concentrated within the plates and can be measured in real-time.
  • Scale and throughput can be increased to enable true high-throughput screening of compound libraries, engineered proteins, and single cell clone isolation.

Diverse biomolecules - such as antibodies, soluble receptors, and peptides - can be assessed rapidly for basic functionality, saving time and resources in the therapeutic development process.