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Serial Dilution

A technique that reduces the concentration of substances such as bacteria, viruses, or DNA. It is used in numerous disciplines such as microbiology, molecular biology, virology, cell biology, and biochemistry.

Serial Dilution 1

Serial dilution involves multiple dilution steps, each creating a lower concentration of the original sample. Three common methods include the standard, logarithmic, and microwell plate methods. The complexity of serial dilution lies in the need for precision and accuracy, particularly with manual pipetting, which can lead to errors and inconsistencies. Automating the process using robotic pipetting systems increases accuracy, improves reproducibility, saves time, reduces contamination risk, and allows for high-throughput screening, overcoming the challenges of manual pipetting.

Workflows For Serial Dilution

Serial dilutions are commonly used in various workflows such as:

  1. Microbiology: To count the number of bacteria or other microorganisms in a sample.
  2. Molecular Biology: For DNA and RNA quantification.
  3. Virology: To determine the concentration of virus in a sample.
  4. Cell Biology: To create gradient concentrations of cell samples.
  5. Biochemistry: In ELISA assays and other bioassays.

Serial dilution has never been easier

The OT-2 is a bench-top liquid handler designed to be accessible and flexible enough to automate many common applications.

Top Methods of Serial Dilution

  1. Standard Method: This involves diluting a sample in a series of tubes containing a diluent (usually a buffer solution). A fixed volume of the sample is transferred to the first tube and mixed. Then, a fixed volume from this tube is transferred to the next tube, and so on, down the line. Each tube has a progressively smaller concentration of the initial sample.
  2. Logarithmic Method: This is similar to the standard method but the dilution factor varies logarithmically. For instance, each step could involve a ten-fold dilution.
  3. Microwell Plate Method: This is a high-throughput method where serial dilutions are carried out in 96 or 384 well plates. It’s commonly used for biochemical and immunological assays like ELISA.


Serial Dilution Steps

The standard method, described in the below steps, involves sequentially diluting a sample into a diluent across multiple containers, maintaining a consistent dilution factor at each stage. Variations of this technique, such as the logarithmic and microwell plate methods, slightly alter the approach by changing the dilution factor or the format of the containers, respectively, to suit specific experimental needs.


1. Determine the Diluent


2. Fill Target Containers with Diluent


3. Perform the First Dilution


4. Perform the Next Dilutions


5. Discard Transfer Volume in the Last Tube/Well. 


Serial Dilution Calculation and Key Formulas

Dilution Factor (DF)

Calculating Concentration


Total Dilution Factor


Final Concentration

For example, starting with a concentration of 100 units/mL and performing three ten-fold dilutions (DF of 1000), the final concentration is mL%7D

This formula is crucial in various scientific applications where precise dilution is required.

Protocol Spotlights

Opentrons helps you automate serial dilution with open-source protocols for the OT-2 and Opentrons Flex

Why is Serial Dilution Difficult?

The main difficulty in serial dilution lies in the need for precision and accuracy in pipetting to ensure correct and reproducible results. Even small errors can lead to significant inaccuracies, especially when dealing with very small or very large quantities of substances, or when working with high dilution factors. Additionally, contamination can occur at any stage of the process, leading to erroneous results.

Key Challenges of Serial Dilution with Manual Pipetting

  1. Reproducibility: It’s hard to ensure consistent results between experiments due to small variations in pipetting technique.
  2. Time and Labor Intensive: Manually preparing a large number of dilutions is a time-consuming process.
  3. Risk of Error: There’s a high chance of human error, especially when dealing with large dilution factors or very small volumes.
  4. Cross Contamination: If the pipette isn’t cleaned properly between dilutions, there’s a risk of cross-contamination.

Automating the Serial Dilution Process

Automated liquid handling systems, such as robotic pipetting systems, can be used to automate the serial dilution process. These systems use software to control the volume and destination of each pipetting action, significantly reducing the chance of human error and improving reproducibility. The operator just needs to set up the initial conditions and then the machine takes care of the rest.

Benefits of Automation over Manual Pipetting for Serial Dilution

  1. Increased Accuracy and Precision: Automated systems have less variability than manual pipetting, leading to more accurate and precise results.
  2. Improved Reproducibility: Automated systems can perform the same task in exactly the same way every time, improving reproducibility between experiments.
  3. Time and Labor Saving: Automation can handle multiple samples simultaneously, greatly reducing the time required for the process.

Want to know more?

Our team of experts can help figure out if automation is right for you. Book a virtual demo to discuss your workflow needs with an expert.