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Lab bench frustrations: Nature can be sneaky


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But in 2009, everything started to fall apart. When Rimm ordered a fresh set of antibodies, his team could not reproduce the original results. The antibodies were sold by the same companies as the original batches, and were supposed to be identical — but they did not yield the same staining patterns, even on the same tumours. Rimm was forced to give up his work on the melanoma antibody set. “We learned our lesson: we shouldn’t have been dependent on them,” he says. “That was a very sad lab meeting.”

Antibodies are among the most commonly used tools in the biological sciences — put to work in many experiments to identify and isolate other molecules. But it is now clear that they are among the most common causes of problems, too. The batch-to-batch variability that Rimm experienced can produce dramatically differing results. Even more problematic is that antibodies often recognize extra proteins in addition to the ones they are sold to detect. This can cause projects to be abandoned, and waste time, money and samples. Here.

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