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So What Exactly Are Those Cells?

Cell lines don't always match what their labels say, and research conducted using misidentified or contaminated lines likely contributes to the inability to reproduce research findings, sends researchers on wild goose chases, and wastes research dollars. Because of this, a trio of researchers from the US National Institute of Standards and Technology urges in PLOS Biology researchers to authenticate the cell lines they use.

NIST's Anne Plant and her co-authors point out that the American National Standards Institute and the American Type Culture Collection developed a short tandem repeat profiling-based standard, called ASN-0002, for the authentication of human cell lines. They'd focused on STR profiling as it can tell cell lines apart based on a few markers, the data produced is comparable across labs, and as it is a rapid and inexpensive test.

"This is a very thorough and helpful document that explains why, and precisely how, to authenticate human cell lines, and provides a definitive compilation of methods and results from recognized experts," Plant and her co-authors write.

However, Amanda Capes-Davis from CellBank Australia—Children's Medical Research Institute and Richard Neve from Gilead Sciences note in a related PLOS Biology article that this standard is some four years old and hasn't been widely adopted. They write that there are a number of sociological and other factors impeding its wider use, including cost, time, and the ease of not doing something if it isn't required.

"Our goal should be for scientists to view authentication as essential and burdensome as running a molecular weight ladder on their western blots," they add.