Episode 2

PCR Thermal Cycler: How to Purchase the Best Unit for Your Lab

Published on July 10, 2018

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In this podcast, John Buie discusses the 3 important questions you should take into account before purchasing a PCR Thermal Cycler for your workroom. Discover expert tips and easily narrow down your options when purchasing laboratory equipment. Find out more of our other podcast episodes at LaboratoryApp.com.

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Show Notes

Finding the best-fit PCR Thermal Cycler for your experiments and research can be challenging. So in this episode, our editor-in-chief, John Buie, shares some helpful tips on how to zero in the best model options for your applications without sacrificing your budget.

John started the show by bringing to the table a simple list of questions to help users determine demands of their applications, an initial step in identifying the perfect unit to get. He suggested types of thermocyclers to look into based on common laboratory tasks, expected sample throughput, as well as flexibility and sensitivity requirements.

He provided recommendations on features and functionalities to consider depending on temperature and ramp rate requirements as well as common PCR issues encountered in the lab.

Lastly, John also discussed tips on what to evaluate when it comes to user-convenience offered by most thermal cycler units.

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Read the full PCR Thermal Cycler Purchasing Guide below:

Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) is a cost-effective technique used in molecular biology laboratories to exponentially amplify segments of DNA, creating millions of copies of a specific DNA sequence. Fundamental to this technique is the thermal cycler, also known as a thermo cycler, DNA amplifier, or a PCR machine. This go-to and indispensable lab tool features heating blocks and provides a thermally controlled environment for use in temperature-sensitive samples and reactions. By changing temperature at specific times for particular durations, a thermal cycler generate multiple copies of DNA and other genetic material fragments for use in downstream applications such as cloning, sequencing, expression analysis, and genotyping. Other important applications include diagnosis and monitoring of diseases, gene expression, mutagenesis, genetic research, and forensic research.

Contents

Determine Application Demands for Your PCR Thermal Cycler Purchase

Review Lab Space where the PCR Thermal Cycler will be Situated

Decide on Budget Allocations for your PCR Thermal Cycler Purchase

Gradient Functionality of your PCR Thermal Cycler

Ramp Rate of your PCR Thermal Cycler

Specialized Lids of your PCR Thermal Cycler

User Experience Provided by your PCR Thermal Cycler

Whether for use in diagnostic, cell biology, pharmaceutical, environmental, or food safety laboratories, finding the right thermal cycler to effectively cater all your application needs is necessary. You would not want to have a unit that cannot offer reliable operation, affecting not only your lab outputs but also your lab efficiency. With plenty of thermal cycler models and types to choose from, deciding on the perfect unit for your research can be a daunting and intimidating task. To make it easier, Laboratory App has prepared this simple guide to walk you through factors to consider when purchasing the best PCR thermal cycler for your workroom.

Determine Application Demands for Your PCR Thermal Cycler Purchase

Crucial in finding the most suitable PCR machine for your laboratory are the goals of your application. Reviewing what it demands of you and envisioning the changes your lab may undergo in the future can narrow down your choices. Start by answering these questions:

What type of thermocycler are you looking for?

Depending on your end-goal, you can either get a standard endpoint PCR, a qPCR, or a digital PCR machine. For basic tasks like generating nucleic acid sequences for sequencing, cloning or checking reactions on a gel, you can opt for a standard thermocycler. If your focus is not on producing an end product but more on real-time quantification of a DNA target sequence or measuring presence of biomolecules such as mRNA or polymorphism, then qPCR models are the right fit for you. Similarly, a digital PCR thermocycler offers DNA quantification like a qPCR however not in real-time. The reactions happen in a large number of small partitions with each partition likely to have 0 or 1 DNA molecule only, achieving a more sensitive quantitative DNA measurement than what a qPCR unit can give and not requiring a standard curve.

What is your expected sample throughput?

Even though digital PCR thermal cyclers provide better sensitivity and discrimination compared to qPCR thermal cyclers, keep in mind how these can only offer limited throughput. If you will be working with a few samples every now and then, you can look for smaller, personal cycling systems that can run up to 48 samples at a time. 

For higher throughput work on a regular basis, think of getting qPCR cyclers, dual 48/48 well thermal cyclers that allow independent protocols to run simultaneously for instances when there are many users working with the equipment, multi-bay cyclers, and quad cyclers. You can also invest on PCR systems that can go over 96 samples at a time. Think of not just your current throughput needs but also your future application requirements, acquiring thermocyclers that can be networked to other units for better throughput.

How much flexibility does your application require?

Heating blocks, also called as thermal blocks, are designed to store DNA samples in small and large capacities. For instantaneous temperature changes during amplification of DNA samples, go for thermocyclers that has a peltier element for temperature control. 

Whether for incubating 0.5 ml or 0.2 ml PCR sample tubes, PCR plates, or PCR strip tubes, a thermal block comes in multiple configurations and handles different sample types and formats. If you are looking for greater flexibility and sensitivity, go for models that have these blocks in different sizes and capacities. Instead of PCR machines with a fixed sample-block format, you can check out units with a multi-format block or those that feature interchangeable blocks, allowing you to swap various formats including 96-well, dual 48/48-well, and 384-well good for conducting many experiments all at once. For a wide range of thermal cyclers with interchangeable blocks, check out the Scilogex TC1000-S Thermal Cycler that fits 96 x 0.2ml PCR tubes, 8 x 12 PCR plates or 96-well plates.

Review Lab Space where the PCR Thermal Cycler will be Situated

How much available space you have in your lab will dictate the convenience of location and accessibility of your equipment. For those with a large and open space, you can go for modular systems but if you have a modest workroom or if your benchtop is already too crowded, you can go for small footprint units.

Decide on Budget Allocations for your PCR Thermal Cycler Purchase

When getting thermal cyclers, bear in mind other expenses that may come with your purchase like the consumables, lifetime costs, and possible parts replacements in the future. Different units may vary in prices depending on the features and configurations they offer. If you have ample resources at hand, you can always get new PCR thermal cyclers for animal diagnostics, personal product testing, and the detection of pathogens such as viruses, molds, and bacteria.

Gradient Functionality of your PCR Thermal Cycler.

If you do not prefer a multi-block thermal cycler but is still interested in simultaneously running various reactions at different temperatures, you can opt for a unit featuring a thermal block not heated uniformly but in a precisely defined gradient. Thermal cyclers with gradient capabilities let you quickly test and pick optimal conditions and the best working temperature for your assays.

Ramp Rate of your PCR Thermal Cycler

The ramp rate of a PCR thermal cycler shows how quickly the heating block can change to the selected temperature and complete a specified number of cycles. For high throughput applications, get a cycler that offers a fast ramp rate as this would mean faster cycles and run time. You can look for cyclers with a ramp rate of 3°C - 6°C per second or those with heating blocks made of thermo conductive materials.

Specialized Lids of your PCR Thermal Cycler

With most PCRs experiencing issues like evaporation and condensation of reaction fluids leading to insufficient data and negatively affecting results, it is best to procure thermal cyclers featuring heated lids. Units with specialized lids provide good sealing, minimize evaporation, and maintain the necessary sample volume and reagent ratio.

User Experience Provided by your PCR Thermal Cycler

Other factors to consider before buying a thermal cycler include:

Ease of Use

For users who are new to PCR, browse touch screen, ATM-style, or menu-driven thermocyclers for easy and smooth operation, minimizing risks of user-errors.

Remote Access

If you need a system that lets you adjust protocols and view preliminary results wirelessly through a smartphone or a tablet, look for a thermal cycler that has networking capabilities.

Speed, Accuracy, and Software Features

Ensure fast and accurate PCR by taking into account the combination of enzyme, plasticware, and instrument you are working with. For rapid ramp rates, shop plates and tubes with ultrathin walls for better and quicker heat transfer between the block and the sample. Thermo cyclers with software features make way for accurate data analysis.

Taking all these key factors into account before buying a PCR thermal cycler can help you find the right unit that best serves your laboratory needs. Having trouble choosing the appropriate instrument for your specific application? You can always rely on effective solutions and advice from industry-experts like Laboratory App.

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