Carlos C. Goller, an associate teaching professor at North Carolina State University (NCSU) teaches biotechnology to both undergraduate and graduate students, and uses 2 Opentrons OT-2 liquid handling robots in his biotechnology and molecular lab courses. Here’s what he told us.
Opentrons: Tell us about your background
Carlos Goller: I’m an assistant teaching professor at North Carolina State University’s Biotechnology Program. I’m a microbiologist by training, and also studied computer modeling at a small engineering school in Massachusetts as an undergraduate. I got a doctoral degree in microbiology and molecular genetics at Emory University. While I was there my advisor let me teach and take classes while doing research on E.coli biofilm formation. Then, I did my postdoctoral research at Duke Medical Center focusing on infectious diseases and anti-infective drug screening, which is where I first experienced lab automation.
Opentrons: What kind of research do you do?
Carlos Goller: I have a really unique position at NCSU where I teach biotechnology to students and sometimes faculty. In my courses, we work with OT-2 liquid handling robots, Zymo Research kits, and Zymo’s automation team to do DNA and RNA extractions. We now have an Opentrons Thermocycler Module, and will try to make our own RNAseq libraries.
Opentrons: Why did you choose the OT-2?
Carlos Goller: As a postdoctoral fellow at Duke with Dr. Pat Seed, we screened 2,500 compounds using a single multichannel pipette that we swapped between the two of us. Our assays had the goal of identifying compounds that had really good activity against uropathogenic E.coli capsule biosynthesis. At NCSU, we bought an ePMotion 5075 liquid handler and ran several experiments for a couple years. We applied for an internal grant to purchase an Opentrons liquid handler as well.
The price point of the OT-2 makes it more accessible to teaching labs than other lab automation options. The Opentrons software was also open, and we like open practices. The flexibility of not having to have one single software and license was key.
In terms of writing code, we really want our students to learn that code in the lab can be meaningful. In fact, while they don’t work in Python, they were still able to revise one of Opentrons’ open-source cherrypicking protocols to better suit their workflow in the lab thanks to the Opentrons Protocol Designer.
I didn’t want my class to be 12 people hovering around 2 robots. We have 2 OT-2s and the ePMotion, so groups of 4 are tasked with programming the robots. By having smaller groups, they are challenged to make it work.
In academia, we really don’t expose students to research-scale lab automation and its power. So, I pitched teaching a class with robots at NCSU and wrote an NSF proposal. The proposal was to create a network of educators to build case studies teaching students about high-throughput approaches to drug screening, microscopy, and other high-throughput applications with Dr. Sabrina Robertson at UNC Chapel Hill.
Opentrons: How would you say the OT-2 has helped you the most?
Carlos Goller: The OT-2 allows students to spend more time on the robot and more time troubleshooting in the lab than doing busywork. We’ve had some minor issues—one OT-2 didn’t want to connect—but it was part of the automation process and the students took on the challenge.
Opentrons: What was it like to get your OT-2 up and running?
Carlos Goller: We gave our first OT-2 to a grad student last year and had them set it up from scratch with water and food coloring. We made the protocol a little more challenging than just the script, but it only took students a little over two hours to figure out how to use the OT-2s. They had lots of questions—but they were still engaged!
Opentrons: Had you used any lab automation before your OT-2? What did you expect the process of lab automation to be like?
Carlos Goller: I had used the epMotion 5075 and created several scripts to automate cherrypicking, drug screening, bacterial dilutions, and qPCR. The engineer in me likes automation.
Opentrons: Are you planning any other automation?
Carlos Goller: We’re working to develop a class that uses high-throughput sequencing to learn about novel ways to recycle electronic waste components. We have access to a flow cytometer, along with the Opentrons robot. I hope that the combination of instruments can help introduce high-throughput approaches to first and second-year students.
Opentrons: Is there anything else you’d like to say about using the OT-2?
Carlos Goller: We’re getting even more into lab automation this year. We’ve been working with Opentrons on a citizen science project and bothering Max Marrone on the Opentrons Support Team (he’s been great!).The project is about looking for a weird microbe that can take liquid gold and precipitate it out into nanoparticles, so it’s a really good hook for students—but we don’t know much about their genomes or what genes are expressed.
We’re also working with Zymo to get mag beads and trizol and RNA-seq protocols automated on the OT-2s. Our goal is that each group will be challenged with a 6-week half-semester project; one will extract DNA and make sequencing libraries on the ePMotion, and the other will use the OT-2 for RNA extractions. We purchased Opentrons Pipettes, Opentrons Magnetic Module and Opentrons Temperature Module to ramp everything up.
We realize we may not be able to get all the way there, but we will try. These challenging projects involve multiple techniques and troubleshooting protocols. I believe this provides valuable real-world experience to students in these courses.
I really enjoy what I do. We’re having fun with the OT-2.