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Know Thy Cells

Nature journals will ask authors to authenticate cell lines used in manuscript submissions starting next month.

Apr 20, 2015
Jenny Rood

WIKIMEDIA, NIH

Beginning May 1, Nature and its associated journals will expand an existing policy to ask authors to check the identity of the cell lines used in their manuscripts against a publicly available list of more than 400 lines that have been shown to be misidentified or contaminated, according to an editorial published last week (April 15).

Authentication of cell lines in recent years has revealed “pig” cells that were actually from chickens and human cells that contained hamster, rat, mouse, or monkey materials. To combat potentially inaccurate results arising from using such mislabeled and contaminated cell lines in research, Nature journals in 2013 requested that authors state where the cells used in submitted work were obtained. However, a recent sampling of 60 papers published in these journals revealed that only 10 percent of authors had independently verified the identities of their cell lines.

Although cell-line testing can be complicated and time-consuming, it has in recent years become more affordable, and there are now online databases that list previously misidentified cell lines. The Nature journals will enforce their new policy by focusing particular attention on the cell lines used in cancer-related studies—a field in which misidentified cell lines have drawn particular scrutiny from researchers and funders alike—but hope eventually to implement the policy across the board. If a study is found to have used a misidentified cell line, the authors may still argue for the validity of their data, Nature noted, but the journal may also request that the information be removed.

“The least that scientists should already be doing is checking whether the cell line they are using is one of those already marked with a red flag,” Nature emphasized in its editorial.

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