Friday, 14 February 2014

Samples and villains!

Are you absolutely certain, Mr. Spilsbury, that you took the correct tube containing the DNA extracted from the accused, Dr. Hawley Crippen, stored in a communal -80 freezer and, moreover, that it was this very sample that showed a positive match with the DNA extracted from the bottle of Scopolamine, found alongside a small piece of skin belonging to the deceased? I suggests my Lord, that the organisational and labeling practices carried out in your laboratories are at best suspect and at worst, downright irresponsible and dangerous. I therefore can see no reason why Dr. Crippen should not walk free and that all charges be dismissed forthwith! This is what went through my mind today when I was listening to the Master Class from Jenny McCormick from LGC forensics. But why?

We started the school year with, what in retrospect, was a poorly thought-through approach to the labeling and storage of samples generated in the lab. Some of the problems were caused by an assumption that you would all know how to mark samples clearly whether they be tubes, plates or lanes on gels. I soon realised however, that this is something you have never had to think about before. It is also true to say that the marker pens provided to label small Eppendorf tubes and the large numbers of samples generated by the class as a whole, exacerbated the problem. However, more importantly, I realised that this is a skill that is critical to carrying out any form of scientific work; and is in fact an important transferable skill. It therefore requires serious attention.

I have since chatted with a number of our commercial partners about organisational skills in general and they all see it as a priority. So when we get back, we will include labelling and storage as a key element in all experimental work flow planning. I will provide you with a generic template for you to customise for each experiment/project, following on from the excellent progress made over the last couple of weeks. We shall work together to develop a robust system for sample storage and tracking for the Innovation labs. All suggestions most welcome!

1 comment:

  1. The importance of accurate record keeping, including laboratory notebooks and sample labelling, cannot be over-emphasised. In the life-sciences many samples will be retrieved from -80 deg C freezers, and labelling including bar-codes, must be readable through a layer of frost. If wiping the tube to make it legible smudges the label, you have a problem! Not only is this a requisite for good science, there may be the legal dimension alluded to in the post. In addition patent filing also makes strict demands on record keeping: for example, notebook pages must be bound, not loose-leaf, and pages must be consecutively numbered and cannot be torn out. Crossing out is only permitted by a clean strike-through, allowing the text to be read. In industrial laboratories, pages may need to be signed-off by the principal investigator. All this may seem like hard-work at first, but it quickly becomes second-nature, and after a while you have a record of your work in which you can see your skills improving and in which you can take some pride!
    I will leave you to think about whether paper records will be supplanted by electronic notebooks on tablets, and what advantages and disadvantages accrue to each. Bear in mind there are books hundreds of years old, but today's USB drive may be unreadable in future years!
    I rest my case, your Honour.