Robots in science are usually awesome: it’s nice not to have to pipette a whole bunch of 96 wells plates, and it’s a good thing when you don’t have to sit next to the mass spectrometer the whole night to feed it new samples. Those are relatively easy things to do, and it’s nice to have robots to them for us.
Electrophysiology, and specifically whole cell patch clamp recordings are a different game in my opinion: it’s difficult to do, and not a lot of people are able to do it well. It puts those of us who are able to patch cells in the luxurious position that people want to collaborate with us, and put our names on their papers. I’ve heard it’s an excellent skill to have on your CV when looking for jobs. (And, but this is not as relevant here: it’s such an awesome technique because it allows you to listen to what cells are saying to each other!).
However, this article gave me this industrial revolution feeling, that the machines will take over our jobs and the awesomeness of being able to patch cells will soon be available to everyone. Ed Boyden and Craig Forest developed a robot that can patch cells to do whole cell recordings. And even worse: the robot can patch cells in a living brain, which is even way harder than patching cells in a slice.
So for as long as it is going to last, I am going to feel special that I have mastered the art of whole cell recordings in brain slices, and I am hoping that it’s going to be a while until robots can think of research projects and write papers.