Nature Methods | Methagora

Training the kit generation

Most molecular and cellular biology graduate students regularly use commercial kits to conduct experiments. There is no doubt that these experiments-in-a-box make difficult, time-consuming techniques more accessible. But many worry that the gains in efficiency come with a concomitant loss of scientific intuition.

An editorial in the December issue of Nature Methods argues that preventing this loss is the joint responsibility of vendors, mentors, and students. Vendors should supply sufficient information about how kits work and what artifacts are possible. Mentors must make sure that students understand what occurs at each step in the protocol, and encourage appropriate optimization for custom uses, and students must remember to rely on their minds (rather than just their hands) to conduct experiments.

If you have ideas about how kits can be used creatively, or how to make sure kits do not stifle scientific creativity, please post your comments here.


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    Suzanne Pfeffer said:

    I could not agree more. Thank you for writing this piece!

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    Richard Unwin said:

    Agree with the thrust of this article completely. We have previously used kits for protein enrichment/fractionation and have often had to modify protocols slightly to make them compatible with downstream methods. This is part of the scientific process and as such an understanding of how the kit works (and what it contains – not always easy to find out from kit manufacturers) is vital. We have often improved the protocol over that supplied in this way and for our samples.

    If I could put in a suggestion – next month you could reprint this complete article, except substitute the work ‘kit’ with ‘core facility’ – another part of modern research which limits complete student education and understanding of exactly what their result means.