Wet Lab vs Dry Lab: Challenges, Benefits and Skills Required
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Wet labs and dry labs perform vastly different functions for biotechs and research organizations, and though they are both vital to the research and development process, they require different skill sets.
When deciding between the two, one should consider the skills needed, the challenges each type poses and the overall environment. To help, we've put together a guide to help you decide if a wet lab or dry lab is best for you.
Wet Lab vs Dry Lab: What's the Difference?
Both types of labs are used to perform testing in a controlled environment, but that’s where their similarities end.
In a wet lab, testing and analyses are performed using physical samples, chemicals and liquids. Biological samples, drugs and fluids are all tested in a wet lab. In other words, “wet” materials are tested.
In a dry lab, testing and analyses is performed using data, coding and computer systems. Modeling and analysis normally take place in a dry lab. In other words, it is where “dry” materials are tested.
Types of Research
Examples of research performed in a wet lab:
- Patient sample testing
- Molecular and cell biology
- Organic and physical chemistry
- Tissue culture
Examples of Research Performed in a Dry Lab:
- Analysis of methodology
- Analysis of wet lab test results
- Data analysis
- Text interpretation
Wet Lab: Pros & Cons
Both types of labs have their good points and bad points. Often, whether those points are good are bad are a matter of personal opinion. Here’s what you can expect from working in both a wet and a dry lab.
If an experiment fails, no one may be to blame. In many cases, if testing fails in a wet lab, it may not be immediately blamed on human error.
Indeed, there may be many factors beyond the technician’s control that produced a failed result. Contaminated samples, for example, may be the cause. If that is the case, the test will be run again, though repeating the test might not be easy.
Additionally, technique matters. Samples and cultures in a wet lab must be handled with care, and often in a specific manner. Many wet lab professionals enjoy the challenge of developing their skills when handling samples. Work in a wet lab is very hands on, and many professionals find this satisfying.
Finding out where a test went wrong can be time-consuming. While an individual technician might not be blamed for a failed test, it still creates a heavy workload for everyone. If something goes wrong, it can be extremely frustrating trying to figure out when or where or how. Were the samples contaminated or faulty? Were they processed incorrectly? It can take a long time to find out where the error occurred.
The turnaround time for a failed experiment is much longer. If a test has failed, the fallout can be quite serious for both the lab and the company. Often new samples must be ordered, and it could be weeks or even months before they’re ready. This creates a domino effect for everything from further testing to having a drug ready for FDA approval.
Dry Lab: Pros & Cons
It’s easier to identify where tests have gone wrong. If an experiment fails, it’s usually easier to find out when or where. Simply checking the code or data used in a test usually reveals where the error was made.
The turnaround time to redo a failed experiment is significantly less. If it turns out the script is faulty, it takes just a couple of days to rewrite it and run the experiment again. Errors can be much less significant than in a wet lab.
Dry labs are easier to cheaper to set up. Since the environmental regulations for a dry lab are significantly less than a wet lab, they are easier to set up and more affordable to maintain.
If an experiment fails, the technician is usually assumed to be at fault. While the test or experiment can usually be easily repeated, it’s often assumed it’s the fault of a technician’s error. Be it an issue with the code or a miscalculation, a failed experiment is usually blamed on human mistakes.
The work is much less “hands on”. Nearly all work performed in a dry lab is performed on a computer. While many find this work rewarding, others may find it isn’t hands-on enough for them. Technicians who are used to handling liquids and physical samples in a wet lab may feel disconnected from their work in a dry lab.
Most web labs require at least a degree in chemistry or biology. However, there are some entry-level roles that require only a high school diploma.
Soft skills, such as proper handling techniques, are vital in order to work in a wet lab. These skills are usually only learned with experience. Students who are looking for a career in a wet lab may want to consider volunteer work in order to build such skills.
In addition to a degree in chemistry or biology, most dry labs require at least a working knowledge of modeling software like MatLab or C++.
Basic computer skills are a must, and advanced computer skills are preferred. Students who are hoping for a dry lab career should consider computer software courses if their skills need improvement.
Structural Requirements for Wet Labs
Since many different liquids and biological materials are handled in a wet lab, it must meet several specific structural requirements. Obviously, the lab must have plumbing, taps and sinks. However, a wet lab also must have the means to store, treat and/or safely dispose of hazardous material.
This means a wet lab requires the following:
- Disposal systems for biohazardous material
- Refrigeration systems
- Separate systems for disposing contaminated water
- Shower and eyewash stations
- Ventilation systems
- Alarm systems and phone lines in case of an emergency
These requirements protect the health and safety of lab workers, and the community around them as well.
Structural Requirements for Dry Labs
Since a dry lab is essentially a computer lab, its structural requirements are considerably less than those for a wet lab. Nevertheless, a dry lab still has some specific requirements for it to function properly and safely. While multiple data ports are obviously necessary, a dry lab also requires the following:
- Dust suppression system
- Humidity and temperature control system
- Fire suppression system
Electronic equipment can be very sensitive and can become a fire hazard if it becomes overheated. The systems listed above allow researchers to complete their work and maintain safe conditions for them as well.