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Icon basic informationBasic information about multi-mode microplate readers

A multi-mode microplate reader (short form: multi-mode plate reader or multi-mode reader) is a piece of lab equipment capable of detecting with different technologies the light photons emitted by samples of different nature and quantifying them. 

Multi-mode microplate readers are capable of operating in two or more detection modes. Typically, they combine an absorbance plate reader, a luminescence plate reader, and a fluorescence plate reader. In addition, the range can be enhanced with more advanced detection modes like time-resolved fluorescence (TRF), time-resolved FRET (TR-FRET), fluorescence polarization (FP), and AlphaScreen/AlphaLISA.

Compared to single-mode instruments, a multi-mode microplate reader offers the advantage of a wider range of detection technologies at a fraction of the cost of multiple dedicated instruments. Moreover, a multi-mode microplate reader saves bench space in the lab and can increase throughput and efficiency, especially when assay and application multiplexing is needed.

Nowadays, the availability of a plethora of technologies and reagent kits enables the exploitation of a multi-mode microplate reader in different fields and for many different applications. Besides biological, cellular, biochemical, and pharmaceutical research, both in academic and industrial environments, these instruments are also used in environmental research, and in the food or cosmetics industry.


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What is a multi-mode microplate reader?

Multi-mode microplate readers are used in different research fields for the quantification of different biological and chemical assays in a microplate. These assays span over a wide wavelength range, generally from 220-900 nm in different detection modes. They are very complex instruments, optically speaking. Using different technologies, they have to efficiently cover a broad range of detection modes in which luminous signals are generated in different ways.

Multi-mode microplate readers usually contain one or multiple light sources, an optical system for the selection of excitation light, a second optical system for the selection of emission light, and a detector, usually one or multiple photomultiplier tubes (PMTs). PMTs convert photons generated by fluorescence or luminescence into electricity that is then quantified by the multi-mode microplate reader. The output of this process is numbered by which a sample is quantified.

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Icon right microplate readerWhat to consider when choosing a multi-mode microplate reader?

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Multi-mode microplate readers bear several advantages for research labs running multiple assays and applications. As they combine different microplate reading technologies (most commonly absorbance, fluorescence intensity, and luminescence) into a single, more versatile platform, they are a great choice, especially if you have limited bench space, and offer you the most value for money. Nevertheless, there are a few factors to take into account, as the performance of the instrument can significantly affect the quality of your results.

Multi-mode microplate readers with the highest sensitivity allow you to read very low signal intensities and to have a better resolution of signals within your assay window. This is most important if your negative and positive control are close together. In order to still identify changes between positive and negative control, a highly sensitive instrument is needed.

Multi-mode microplate readers capable of high detection speed are recommended when working in high-throughput screening, measuring hundreds of high-density plates (384, 1536, and 3456 well plates) a day. However, a high temporal resolution may be needed as well to resolve quick kinetic events like protein-protein interaction, drug binding, or second messenger cell signalling. In addition, speed is also beneficial if you need to increase the number of data points in a fixed amount of time (e.g. quantitatively measure Ca2+-transients in heart tissue).

An instrument that provides numerous options is recommended if your research work is based on different technologies and requires running multiple applications in parallel, or if your needs change over time. The possibility to switch and combine detection modes, to easily switch between top and bottom reading, or to change wavelengths in absorbance, luminescence, and fluorescence-based detection is usually recommended.

Wavelength selection
Generally, a wavelength selection capability in multi-mode microplate readers is mandatory. It helps to reduce unspecific background or noise that is usually caused by light scatter or autofluorescence from both the sample and the microplate. Filters or monochromators can be employed for this purpose, typically from 220-900 nm.

Filters are usually more sensitive, whereas monochromators offer more flexibility. An exception to this paradigm is the Linear Variable Filter (LVF) MonochromatorTM system available on the CLARIOstar Plus and the VANTAstar. LVF Monochromators have filter-like performance and make the CLARIOstar Plus the most sensitive monochromator-based microplate reader on the market. LVF Monochromators can be used in fluorescence intensity and luminescence detection.

Additionally, the capability of detecting two emission channels simultaneously on a multi-mode microplate reader is quite beneficial for studying protein-protein interactions by FRET and TR-FRET, or for fluorescence polarization and AlphaScreen assays. This option halves measurement time and reduces data variability. Simultaneous Dual Emission (SDE) detection is available on the PHERAstar FSX and is an option on the LUMIstar Omega and FLUOstar Omega.

Compatible microplate formats
Commonly, basic assays are measured in 96-well plates. However, if you have multiple samples and/or wish to save precious reagents or time, 384-well and 1536-well formats can also be used. Just make sure that your multi-mode microplate reader of choice is also capable of reading the plate format you plan on using. Moreover, absorbance, fluorescence, and luminescence detection require different microplate types.

Reagent injectors
When looking for a multi-mode microplate reader, you should consider the nature of your research and the assay and application you want to run. For enzymatic kinetics or real-time cell-based responses, the use of reagent injectors can be beneficial. By manually pipetting reagents into the wells you can run the risk of losing important data about your reaction. Especially for fast responses, the event you are looking for may already be gone before you detect it. Our multi-mode microplate readers equipped with reagent injectors can inject and detect the signal of a well, and then move to the next one (e.g. monitoring intracellular calcium using fluorescent dyes).

Environmental control
If you want to run long-time live cell-based assays and do not want to shuffle your microplate back and forth between a multi-mode microplate reader and incubator, make sure that your reader of choice has the capability to control its internal gas environment.

The Omega series, the VANTAstar, and the CLARIOstar Plus can be equipped with our Atmospheric Control Unit (ACU). The ACU provides the ideal environment for any live cell-based application. The ACU independently regulates both O2 and CO2 gas levels within the microplate reader chamber. Combined with shaking and temperature incubation, the ACU provides a real “walk-away” solution for any cell-based assay from standard cell growth to hypoxic applications.

Consider a multi-mode microplate reader that is modular and has the option to be upgraded at later time points. Upgradeable multi-mode microplate readers not only meet your current necessities but could fulfill your future requirements as well, evolving with your future lab needs and supporting new projects and application changes.

Moreover, modular multi-mode microplate readers save you money as they allow laboratories to purchase only what they need at the time. If additional features or detection modes are required in the future, the instrument can be upgraded at any time.

Icon multi-mode readersOur multi-mode microplate readers

BMG LABTECH offers different types of multi-mode microplate readers, from the budget-friendly filter-based Omega series to the flexible LVF Monochromator-based™ CLARIOstar®Plus and VANTAstarTM, up to the high-end, high-throughput screening dedicated PHERAstar®FSX.

All our multi-mode microplate readers are equipped with a high-intensity xenon flashlamp, assay-specific filters, optic modules, or LVF monochromators™ (reader-dependent), and low-noise or extended red-shifted PMTs.

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Which assays can be measured by a multi-mode plate reader?

Multi-mode microplate readers offer higher flexibility of detection, enabling the measurement of many different assays and applications in different research fields.

These instruments are recommended whenever a plate reader is shared by many users when the application you run changes from project to project or if you need to read assays with different detection modes and/or multiplex.

A fully equipped multi-mode microplate reader with absorbance, fluorescence intensity, luminescence, time-resolved fluorescence, TR-FRET, fluorescence polarization, and AlphaScreen can detect all non-radioactive assays available on the market. The following are examples of measurements taken with BMG LABTECH multi-mode microplate readers.

Examples of measurements with BMG LABTECH multi-mode microplate readers:

The following are examples of measurements taken with BMG LABTECH multi-mode microplate readers:

See a complete list of all application notes with our multi-mode microplate readers.


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What’s my budget?

The price of a multi-mode microplate reader depends on the technical equipment and the number of detection modes that the device can measure.

But be careful with your choice and don’t consider only your current, but also your future needs. Keep an eye on the possibility to upgrade your microplate reader with additional features or detection modes at any time. If you have the chance to upgrade your instrument later, you don’t need to buy an additional instrument for future applications. This saves not only money and useful space in your lab, but also the time that you must bring up to get used to a new instrument or brand.

Besides the costs for the microplate reader itself, there could be additional costs to be considered when selecting the right instrument for your lab.  Don’t forget to check if there are any hidden costs, e.g. fees for servicing, support, software updates, licenses, or any bundled reagent packages.

Also keep in mind that filter-based readers are usually cheaper than monochromator-based instruments, but you need to purchase different filters for different wavelengths. Be sure to factor in those costs as well. 

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