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2 min read

How to use a LIMS? Scientific data definition

Any organization developing a laboratory information management strategy struggles with the definition of scientific data types corresponding to different kind of samples.  Understanding the different types of records going into a LIMS is more challenging than one would think.

LIMS applications are designed to be generic enough to work with many different types of labs. This requires the use of generic terms that can create confusion in a particular context. For instance, many synthetic biology laboratories use plasmids on a daily basis. Should plasmids be recorded as sequences, bacterial strains, or samples? Chances are that each member of your lab will have a different perspective on this issue. It is also possible that their perspective will change over time. The consequence of this situation is that the plasmids used by your lab will be found in different areas of your LIMS or that they won't be recorded because the users are not sure how to record them.

Some LIMS like LabCollector come with a set of predefined record categories. In this situation, the main issue is to set conventions describing how your team will use these records. Other tools like eLabJournal, give users complete freedom to define records in any way they want. Each lab must decide how it will categorize record types.

Suggested Categories of Records


Plasmids can refer a lot of different things. It can refer to the sequence of a circular DNA molecule. It can also refer to a solution of the DNA molecule itself that can be used for a transformation. Finally, some people would refer to a bacterial strain carrying a plasmid as the plasmid itself.

We recommend recording defining a category of samples called Plasmids to record samples containing the physical plasmid in some long-term storage format. Plasmids correspond to tubes that you have somewhere in your lab. If you can transform bacteria with the content of this tube it's probably a plasmid. We also recommend using the Plasmid records only to record verified plasmids or plasmids of known sequences. Plasmids generated as part of a workflow like unsequenced plasmids are best recorded as Samples.

Cells and Strains

We recommend recording defining a category of samples called Cells and Strains for biological material that has been extensively characterized and sequenced. As a rule of thumb, if you want to keep it in a -80C freezer, then it should probably be recorded in the Cells and Strains category.

What you do not want to record in this module are cell cultures. We recommend recording them as samples.


Samples are everything else - and we really mean everything. The natural tendency of first-time users of LIMS is to only record the sample intended for long term storage. There is an innate reluctance to record working samples.

The sample module should be used to record all the working samples that are not intended for long term storage. This module allows users to define different categories of sample types. This feature should be taken advantage to distinguish different categories of samples like cell culture or PCR products.


Define a category of records called Primers for Primers, and possibly gene fragments.


It is certainly possible to define more categories of records but experience proves that record types tend to multiply like bunnies reaching the point where nobody really understands how things should be recorded. Keeping it simple will greatly help the whole team to adhere to the same conventions.

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