Why We Made The World's Most Affordable Fully-Automated Thermocycler

At Opentrons, we believe that all scientists should be able to pursue their research regardless of resources, and that lab automation should be affordable, flexible, and easy-to-use. Our mission is to make lab automation accessible to every biologist, and the next step in that journey is the Opentrons Thermocycler—the latest modular addition to the OT-2 liquid handling platform:

The Opentrons Thermocycler is the world’s most affordable fully-automated thermocycler—by design! For us, user-centered design principles are key; our team learned very early on during our time at Y Combinator that we need to be laser-focused on making something people want. This not only means that we collect user feedback through every step of our development process; it also means we decide what’s most important to build based on (1) conversations we regularly engage in with our community, and (2) market and user data.

Based on our conversations with scientists, we had a lot of options for what we could focus our collective engineering, design, and product resources towards. We’ve heard requests from our community for affordable, open-source, automated version of many types of lab equipment (quite a few of which would have been easier to build than a thermocycler!), but we wanted to be sure to create something that would have a significant and measurable impact on as many biologists as possible. In order to do that, we took a look at our data to better understand what workflows our community is doing most often:

Biologists Using Opentrons, By Application
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CAPTION: These values are approximate; they come from multiple sources and fluctuate from month to month as we add new scientists to our community. The "other" category contains many applications--stay tuned for more information!

Based on several streams of data—from website analytics, to sales numbers, to workflow requests we receive through our custom application development pipeline—we’ve been able to determine that our community often comes to us to start automating their PCR preps (20%), NGS library preps (15%), and molecular cloning workflows (10%). This means that the Opentrons Thermocycler could be impactful to as much as 40% of our ever-growing community and make their workflows easier to execute. This product was a labor of love for us, and marks a significant milestone for our company and our platform: we’re moving further into full-workflow optimization, increasing hands-off time for our users, and making the experience of automating wetlab experiments easier and more streamlined.

Now, for example, scientists can place their DNA template on deck with the Opentrons Thermocycler module and run a genotyping PCR. This means that after they automate the process from sample to amplified DNA, all they need to do is load the product and run the gel. That can save them hours of time at the bench and give them confidence that the PCR samples they get will be consistent and contamination-free. We’ve also unlocked the ability for our users to do NGS library prep from sample to sequencer without needing to move off-robot for cleanup, ligation, and amplification steps.

That said, this approach to full-workflow optimization also takes shape in small, incremental feature additions. For instance, many of our users love our automation-friendly tips and have been asking for filter tips to help ensure contamination-free work. We’ve also launched an ever-growing, easy-to-use library of compatible labware. All of the tools we create are designed to decrease the barriers to entry to automation, allowing biologists with no automation experience to take their experiments to the next level.

For us, the Opentrons Thermocycler helps us transition from a company that makes liquid handler to a company that can help labs with full end-to-end lab automation. That's a goal we've embraced from the beginning, and one that very few companies in our space can offer. It makes us different... and we truly believe that that difference will make us even more effective at helping biologists do their work better, faster, and more reliably.

But still, we are most excited about seeing what our community accomplishes with all these new additions to our platform. We also can’t wait to see what else you want us to create. If you have any ideas or requests, feel free to let us know - we love to hear from you! And, as always, stay tuned - we're working on adding more features every day.