Do You #Authenticate?

authenticate_logoOn April 15, 2015 Nature announced a new policy around authentication of cell lines used in research studies that are published in its journals (1). Beginning in May 2015 they are asking all authors to confirm that they are not working on cells known to have been misidentified or cross-contaminated and to provide details about the source and testing of their cell lines.

The problem of cell line misidentification has been well documented in the literature with issues being reported with hematopoietic cell lines in 1999 (2) and a lymphoma cell line in 2001 (3). In 2006, one study suggested that 15–20% cells used in experiments have been misidentified or cross contaminated (4). And, in her book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, published in 2010, science writer Rebecca Skloot, notes that concern about cell line contamination dates back to 1958 (5). Promega has written about this problem and the power of STR analysis to assist you in assuring that your cell lines are what they should be (6–9). In fact, as John Masters, Professor of experimental pathology at University College, London points, out, there really is no excuse for the continuing problem of cell line contamination:

“For nearly 50 years, people have been using falsely identified cells totally unnecessarily because they haven’t checked.” (10)

Know what your cells are. #authenticate
Know what your cells are. #authenticate
The problem of cell line misidentification and contamination is not a new problem, and the calls for the scientific community to take extra care in understanding the identity of the cells that they are working with are not new either. Nature journals are not the first journals to take a stand to require authors to authenticate their cell lines. Journals including  International Journal of Cancer , In Vitro Cellular and Developmental Biology and Cell Biochemistry and Biophysics previously put policies in place around this issue (11,12), and in 2012 a new standard (ASN-0002) was officially published by the American National Standards Institute regarding human cell line authentication using profiles generated from STRs (11) . Based on the work of the ASN-0002 work group, the International Cell Line Authentication Committee was formed to promote awareness and authentication testing worldwide (13), including creating a publicly available database of misidentified cell lines.  However, as more and more high-profile cancer studies are retracted because of cell line issues (14,15), it has become apparent standards for cell line culture and authentication will need to become common place in life science research.

To that end, the Global Biological Standards Institute was created to promote a best practices approach to improve the quality of life science research (15). Funded by grant money and the support of educational and commercial entities the institute seeks to promote the use of standard in the life sciences to ensure the reproducibility and translation of life science research from the experimental laboratory to the clinic or field.

The #authenticate campaign is designed to create global culture change around cell line authentication (16). GBSI is asking all researchers to take the #authenticate pledge to adhere to standards and best practices of cell culture and cell line authentication and it is asking journals to require authors of articles to submit proof of cell line testing and authentication (17).

You can participate in #authenticate. Visit the GBSI web site and take the #authenticate pledge. Share your pledge with your fellow scientists and researchers and help spread the news about best practices for cell culture.

Literature Cited

  1. (2015) Announcement: Time to tackle cell’s mistaken identity. Nature. 520, 264. doi:10.1038/520264a
  2. Drexler, H.G. MacLeod, R.A. and Dirks, W.G. (2001) Cross-contamination: HS-Sultan is not a myeloma but a Burkitt lymphoma cell line. Blood 98, 3495–6.
  3. Drexler, H.G., Dirks, W.G. and MacLeod, R.A. (1999) False human hematopoietic cell lines: Cross-contaminations and misinterpretations. Leukemia 13, 1601–7
  4. Cabrera, C.M. et al. (2006) Identity tests: Determination of cell line cross-contamination.Cytotechnology 51, 45–50.
  5. Skloot, R. (2010) The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Random House, Inc. New York) 138–141 (notes).
  6. Oostdik, K. et al. (2009) Stem Cell Line Authentication and Contamination Detection Promega PubHub [Internet: Accessed: April 24, 2015]
  7. Dunham, J. H. and Guthmiller, P. (2012) Doing Good Science: Authenticating Cell Line Identity. Promega PubHub [Internet: Accessed: April 24, 2015}
  8. Gopalakrishnan, A. (2013) “Fingerprinting” your cell lines Promega Connections [Internet: Accessed: April 24, 2015]
  9. Sundquist, T. (2013) Preventing the heartache of cell line misidentification Promega Connections [Internet: Accessed: April 24, 2015]
  10. Perkel, J.M. (2011) Curing Cell Lines BioTechniques 51, 85–90.
  11. American Type Culture Collection Standards Development Organization Workgroup ASN-0002. (2010) Cell line misidentification: The beginning of the end. Nat. Rev. Cancer 10, 441–8.
  12. Lichter, P. et al. (2009) Obligation for cell line authentication: Appeal for concerted action. International Journal of Cancer 126, 1.
  13. Internationa Cell Line Authentication Committee web site [Internet: Accessed: April 27, 2015]
  14. Evanko, D. (2013) A retraction resulting from cell line contamination. Nature Methods Methagora [Internet: Accessed: April 24, 2015]
  15. (2014) Cell line switch sinks PLOS ONE cancer paper. Retraction Watch [Internet: Accessed: April 24, 2015]
  16. GBSI (2015) About GBSI: How we work [Internet: Accessed: April 24, 2015]
  17. Freedman, L. (2015) GBSI launches #authenticate awareness campaign The Standard Buzz [Internet: Accessed: April 24, 2015}


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Michele Arduengo

Social Media Manager at Promega Corporation
Michele earned her B.A. in biology at Wesleyan College in Macon, GA, and her PhD through the BCDB Program at Emory University in Atlanta, GA. Michele is the social media manager at Promega and managing editor of the Promega Connections blog. She enjoys getting lost in a good book, trumpet playing, knitting, and snowshoeing.

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