Though we live in the age of digital information, it is both apparent and painful to realize that biotechnology companies have been slow to embrace that fact. Particularly odd, considering we scientist-types passionately declare that we are at the forefront of innovation. Yes, most (if not all) protocols are available digitally, and journals are published readily online, but that is all just more of the same, text-based information transfer.
I should note that there is at least one example of a journal that is fully taking advantage of the capabilities of the internet – the fairly well established and often very useful Journal of Visualized Experiments (JoVE). However, acceptance by the research community at large is slow-coming and only a few high profile authors have made an appearance on the site.
JoVE doesn’t sink my argument, however. Research experiments and assay protocols are two very different things. As a graduate I find myself in a very comfortable spot absorbing recently discovered insights from published research articles. No complaints there. However, when I rummage through the methods section and find that the authors applied an assay from Company X “according to manufacturer’s instructions” my heart drops.
Yes, the protocols are usually very well documented in terms of absolute times, settings and volumes. I mean, I’m pretty sure MiniPrep protocols can be operated by second graders. But as anybody who has ever run an ATP determination assay or an RT-qPCR experiment knows, there are nuances to setting up an experiment that just can’t be translated in a written protocol. I want to see how you flicked the tube; I want to advise on how to arrange my tubes for an efficient workflow; oh, you added the reagents in that order?
To make my kvetching short, we need more video protocols.
Life Technologies, to their credit, have started to really take the social community by storm. Their Cell Imaging Facebook page has become a daily check-in for me, if I may underestimate. On top of that, they have quite a few iPhone/iPad apps (check iTunes), published explicit protocols (e.g., protocols of a certain reagent for a number of different cell types) and, best of all, have video protocols! They aren’t the only company to be doing this, but so far they’ve done it the best (in my opinion). Check out the protocol below, which helped me get a successful transfection the first time out: