If you are on the market for a new absorbance microplate reader, there are a few factors to take into account, as the performance of the instrument can significantly affect the quality of your research data.
A wavelength selection capability is mandatory for an absorbance microplate reader and is dependent on the type of detectors that are used.
Two different types of detectors are commonly used: PhotoMultiplier Tubes (PMTs) or Charge Coupled Device (CCD) spectrometers.
The PMT-based microplate reader requires a wavelength selection tool between light source and sample. Optical filters or monochromators select the desired wavelength before the light is sent to the sample. This way, only the light at a desired wavelength is transmitted through the sample, reaches the PMT, and is quantified.
To scan spectra or a range of wavelengths, the PMT-based microplate reader requires a monochromator. This selects the desired wavelengths and measures them sequentially upon mechanical movement. For measurements of multiple discrete wavelengths, multiple single measurements with different filters or a monochromator scan are required.
The CCD-spectrometer based microplate reader does not require a wavelength selection tool. The spectrometer separates the different wavelengths present in the light transmitted through the sample as these are directed onto the CCD detector. This captures the intensity of all wavelengths at once. This way, spectra, single, or multiple discrete wavelengths can be acquired in a short amount of time.
If your application needs spectral acquisition, CCD spectrometers are significantly faster than monochromators, as mechanical spectral scanning is not required.
BMG LABTECH instruments are equipped with a UV/vis spectrometer for absorbance measurements. This captures a full range spectrum from 220 to 1000 nm in less than a second/well.
Compatible microplate formats
Commonly in life science applications, basic absorbance assays like ELISA are measured in 96 well microplates. However, if you have multiple samples and/or wish to save precious reagents or time, 384 and 1536 well formats can also be used. Just make sure that your absorbance microplate reader of choice is also capable of reading the microplate format you plan on using.
Shaking and incubation
When looking for an absorbance microplate reader, you should consider the nature of your research and of the assay you want to run. Generally, shaking and incubation are two important features. Incubation is critically important when running enzymatic assays at stable temperatures, e.g. 37° C. Multiple shaking options allow a proper mixing of the samples. For applications like cell growth assays in bacteria or yeast (OD600), shaking is crucial for a good oxygenation and consequent fast cell replication.
Compatibility with cuvettes
Traditionally, absorbance measurements were performed in cuvettes with a normalized path length of 1 cm. In microplates, the path length changes dependent on volume and plate format. If aqueous solutions are measured, the microplate measurement can be normalized by using the water-peak path length correction. If despite this option, for your research you still occasionally require measuring samples in cuvettes, make sure that the microplate reader of choice has either an integrated cuvette port like the SPECTROstar Nano, or plate adapters for measuring cuvettes horizontally like the LVis Plate.
Software for data reduction
Generally, the software that runs the microplate reader is a very underestimated part of the package. For some readers, the software only controls the measurement process and provides a raw data output. In other cases, it can perform complex data analysis.
A comprehensive, easy-to-use and flexible software can make life easier, simplify detection and data analysis so that you can get the most out of your instrument.
The most useful calculation features include automatic blank subtraction, automatic calculation of sample concentrations based on standard curves for ELISA assays or on the Beer-Lambert law, 260/280 ratios, path length corrections, and enzymatic constants such as Km and Vmax.
On the BMG LABTECH software package, the most common assays have predefined quick-run assay-specific protocols and dedicated data reduction templates. Through these dedicated solutions, data acquisition and analysis are performed with a single mouse click, enabling researchers to carry out experiments quickly and easily.