Automation is not without controversy, but technology marches forward. Robotics boost productivity and economies of scale by replacing inefficient human labor. In turn, costs fall. This is attractive for cannabis testing labs where sample preparation requires intensive labor and involves human error. Numerous companies have designed robotic solutions for cannabis lab testing.
Medicinal Genomics, for example, specializes in DNA extraction and quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) technology. Laboratories implement qPCR to quantify mold and bacteria in cannabis; the method is superior to traditional plating.
According to the company, manually testing salmonella, shiga-toxin producing E. coli, and aspergillus species (A. niger, A. flavus, A. fumigatus, A. terreus) requires 4-6 hours of technician time; an estimated 92 samples may be analyzed per day. Using medium-high throughput automation (with partner company Hamilton Robotics), technician time drops to 2 hours and samples per day double to 184. The high throughput system also requires 2 hours of labor but potentially quadruples samples per day to 364. Test results, managed by a single robot, record directly to the lab’s information management system.
If traditional microbial plating is desired, Obotics offers automation that inoculates 9 plates per minute and stores up to 1,000 plates. The company’s CannaDeck system is versatile and automates sample preparation including liquid/liquid extraction and QuEChERs. CannaDeck utilizes “best-of-breed robotic sample processing” for cannabinoid and terpene potency, pesticides, and solvents.
Hamilton Robotics manufactures a variety of automated lab solutions. This includes the [MPE]2, a device that applies positive pressure and evaporation to samples. In a white paper, the company employed QuEChERs for the analysis of 47 pesticides in cannabis (96 samples). During the clean-up, they used the [MPE]2 to boost filtration to 1ml/minute. This saved 45-60 minutes and several steps compared to traditional pre-analysis clean-up. Hamilton notes that with an automated liquid handling workstation, “the time savings could potentially double…This fully-automated option could free up a significant amount of laboratory technician time while also increasing accuracy and precision.”
Biosero’s Green Button Go® stands out as “hardware- and data-agnostic” software that adapts automation across systems and cannabis products. It coordinates storage, robot arm operation, barcode scanning, solvent dispensation, foil plate sealing, orbital shaking, and liquid handling. Testing laboratory Cannalysis integrates the software with its BUD●E robotic sampling platform and boasts up to 2,000 tests per day, an 80% reduction in prep time, and a 500% increase in precision.
Overall, drastic improvements in efficiency and precision make robotics an advantageous choice for cannabis testing laboratories.