Thursday, March 03, 2016

Reproducibility of Fluorescent Expression from Engineered Biological Constructs in E. coli

I've talked about the interlaboratory studies we've been running through iGEM previously, and while I've been quite excited before, now is the biggest news I have to announce yet: our paper on the results of the studies has just been published in PLOS ONE: Reproducibility of Fluorescent Expression from Engineered Biological Constructs in E. coli.
Fluorescence from iGEM interlab constructs (Credit: Oxford iGEM 2015)
In sum: over the past two years, teams from nearly 100 institutions around the world measured the same simple genetic constructs for expressing green fluorescent protein, and this paper reports their results, crediting all of the more than 600 iGEM authors involved, including lots of undergraduates and even high-school students. In my eyes, the two key results from this study are:

  • Ratios between strong fluorescence were remarkably precise.
  • Weaker measurements were extremely unreliable, but the problem does not appear to be the biology!  Instead, it appears to be differences in how people use their instruments and handle their data.

These are really good news, because it means that some of the well-known problems in understanding and reproducing biological research might be tackled simply by improving our ability to calibrate our instruments and communicate about our measurements.  That's hard, but it's a lot better than thinking that biology might just be inherently too messy to understand properly.

We've also published all of the raw data submitted by all of the teams, so that people can dig further into the data if they're interested and see what else may be lurking there.

And what will 2016 bring?  That is still in planning, dear reader: you'll just have to wait and see...
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