What is a PCR Workstation?

A PCR workstation is a dedicated space within your lab to conduct polymerase chain reactions (PCR). PCR workstations are also called PCR hoods and provide a workspace enclosed on three sides to provide a contaminant-free environment that helps prevent sample contamination while conducting PCR amplification of DNA or RNA. 
Read on to learn more about PCR workstations, the features they offer, how they work, and what you should consider so you can choose the workstations that are best for your lab. 

What does a PCR workstation do?

PCR workstations are designed to control air circulation to reduce the chances of cross-contamination that can cause inaccurate results. Features that may be included on PCR workstations are:

  • A sterile work area for aseptic techniques 
  • A high-efficiency fan powered by an electronically commutated (EC) motor 
  • Energy-saving LED lighting Vertical laminar airflow with multiplex HEPA filtration technology 
  • UV lights for sterilization

There are two types of PCR hoods that can help you prevent cross-contamination. They are:

  • Laminar flow, which constantly filters and circulates air and moves it smoothly in parallel layers
  • Dead or still air, or air that does not circulate at all

Laminar flow cabinets employ HEPA air filtration and UV light sterilization for maximum protection against contamination. The air velocity in a laminar flow cabinet should be between 0.3 m/s and 0.5 m/s, with 240 to 360 air changes every hour.

PCR cabinets and workstations are available in different sizes and are designed for benchtop use or mounted on a base or mobile cart.

Why use a PCR workstation?

Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) must be completed in a clean environment, or the results may be inaccurate. As PCR was developed in the 1980s and refined in later years, scientific equipment manufacturers began to build PCR workstations to help make the process as error-free as possible.

PCR workstations are three-sided cabinets that can only be accessed from the front. That helps keep contaminants in the air away from biological and genetic samples used in PCR. Workstations are also known as PCR hoods, clean benches, laminar flow hoods, and other names.

PCR workstation advantages and disadvantages

There are advantages and disadvantages to PCR workstations, depending on the manufacturer, model, the features they include, and how well they meet your needs.

Some of the advantages include:

  • PCR workstations are usually easy to set up and use in your lab.
  • Because PCR workstations do not require external ventilation and do not need connections to vents or other large pieces of equipment, they can be quickly relocated to different departments or locations within your lab.
  • Workstations can be used for various applications, and under different conditions. 
  • Most workstations fit easily on laptop benches or can be mounted on mobile carts so they can be easily moved from one location to another.

The primary disadvantage is that while PCR workstations are excellent for protecting cultures and samples from contamination, they are not designed to protect users or samples from hazardous vapors or gases. That is why users should be sure to take safety precautions and use workstations according to their instructions. In addition, users should be sure to regularly sterilize and decontaminate their workstations.

When to use a PCR workstation

PCR workstations can be used for many applications and medical uses. That includes applications that require particle-free air or where you need to keep your work free from contamination. Among those applications are:

  • Media plate preparation
  • Developing plant tissue cultures
  • Assembling electronic devices
  • Mycology

There are also applications in which these workstations should not be used. They should not be used to protect personnel because they do not shield scientists or technicians from working with hazardous substances or potentially infectious materials.

What to consider when selecting a PCR workstation

PCR workstations are durable equipment that will be in your laboratory for a long time. That’s why making the best choice when choosing which workstation to purchase is essential. The following are factors you should consider:

What type of workstation do you need?

PCR workstations come in two types:

  • UV workstations
  • UV + HEPA workstations

Both types of workstations use UV germicidal lamps to help ensure that your workstation is free of contamination that could have come from previous samples or humans. The difference is that some workstations come equipped with particulate air HEPA filters to filter air before it enters the work chamber. That lets users create a positive pressure environment that helps keep samples free from contamination.

How does positive pressure affect a PCR Workstation?

Positive pressure means the air pressure inside your workstation is greater than outside its chamber. That means air can only flow out of the chamber, and that air from the outside environment—which could contain particulates or contaminants—cannot flow into the workstation. At the same time, filtered air inside the workstation chamber is blown out, carrying any contaminants.

To maintain positive pressure, workstations must have HEPA filtration, airtight seals, and a fan that helps operators maintain air pressure inside the unit whenever the workstation is used.

How does dead air impact PCR results?

PCR workstations that do not have HEPA filters or fans use dead or still air. That means the air inside the workstation remains stationary inside the chamber. There is no air movement inside the workstation, and no air is blown into or out of the workstation. That minimizes disturbances to the samples inside the chamber, which helps prevent contamination and keeps products sterile.

Because there is no ventilation system, air chambers may still be unable to maintain uniform temperatures throughout the work chamber. Different areas of the chamber could have slight temperature variations. Temperatures could vary by layer inside the chamber. While the differences would be small, they could significantly impact PCR results.

PCR workstations can help improve results and reduce the cost of time and money 

PCR workstations are an ideal environment for manipulating DNA and RNA and setting up PCR assays. They help guard against contamination that can lead to false or misleading results, which can cost time and money.

In short, workstations minimize the risk of contamination by providing “separate rooms” for PCR reactions. They offer controlled environments for PCR and RNA applications that protect your samples and help you achieve optimal results.

Avantor® offers PCR workstations to fit any application and budget. Browse our selection to choose the workstation that’s best for you.