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Is It What You Think It Is?

Many cell cultures that researchers rely on aren't quite what they seem. As Retraction Watch reports, about one in six researchers working with human cells aren't using the right cell lines. In a guest post there, Amanda Capes-Davis, chair of the International Cell Line Authentication Committee, argues that researchers must authenticate their cell lines.

She writes that it's "astonishingly easy" for a cell line to become contaminated, especially as the lines are being established — HeLa cells are a common contaminant, but are not the only ones.

In 2010, Capes-Davis and her colleagues put together a list of cross-contaminated or otherwise misidentified cell lines that they published in the International Journal of Cancer. The list, she notes, is now curated by ICLAC, and the current version lists 438 false cell lines.

This, she says, leads to "scientific mayhem."

To check that cell lines can be trusted, Capes-Davis says to first check with the ICLAC database for known issues. But that's only the first step, she says. Researchers should also authenticate their lines themselves.

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