Guest post: Collaboration, Credit and Convenience—Addgene’s Reagent Sharing Model

This is a guest post by Joanne Kamens, Executive Director of Addgene (see full bio below). 

So much time, effort, heart and soul go into every unique research reagent generated.  Lab tech, graduate student, industry scientist, post-doc or principal investigator—every life scientist has experienced the joy of creating a useful reagent, only to feel the pang of sadness when it is banked in the freezer and never used again.  Or perhaps you are one of the few lucky ones who made something truly clever and useful and now all your colleagues want it but you can’t keep up with the requests and get your other work done.

Addgene is a non-profit repository for plasmids, small circular DNA reagents, used in life science research all over the world.  Based in Cambridge, Addgene has over 17,500 unique plasmids in its library and ships over 6,000 plasmids every month.  Depositing is free and there is a small fee to request plasmids.   Just like a frequent flyer program, Addgene rewards scientists who share with the community by giving them reward points each time their plasmid is requested. Currently, Addgene distributes plasmids only to academic organizations but by the end of 2012, some limited parts of our collection may become available to industry requestors.

Addgene’s mission is to facilitate collaboration and sharing.  There are many hurdles we help to overcome.  I think that one of the more interesting ones is ensuring correct and increased citation of reagents.  Some scientists are reticent to share their plasmids for fear of not being given credit for their work.  As plasmids are passed from lab to lab, often information on the original owner or creator is lost.  Derivatives are made and the original source lab is never properly credited.  Addgene centralizes distribution and actively curates the data stored for each plasmid, carefully recording who generated the plasmid and enabling proper accreditation.  Our searchable database allows many plasmids that might never again have seen the light of publication to be used in additional studies, providing additional citations to the lab that originally generated them.

Another problem that Addgene solves is the loss of information when graduate students and post-docs do what they normally do—which is move on to another lab and leave their plasmids behind.  Perhaps later in time when needed again or requested by another lab, the plasmid could be found (perhaps even in a rack and not frozen in the ice at the bottom of the freezer) but it is very unlikely that the data on how the plasmid was made will be dredged up out of a shelved and dormant lab notebook.  Even in this day of increased electronic notebooking, much of this information will leave the lab in the head of the person who made the plasmid. By banking key plasmids with Addgene, a lab can be sure of where to find them when they are needed even many years later.  For more detail on the deposit and request processes you can visit the Addgene website or read this recent article in Lab Times.

Addgene has also created an innovative electronic Material Transfer Agreement (MTA) system to lower the hurdle of legal paperwork required for a plasmid transfer.  MTAs have been routinely required for plasmid transfer between academic and industry organizations but recently, federal requirements for patenting and licensing of materials generated by public funds has resulted in an increase in the use of MTAs.   As most people know, MTAs can be the cause of long (sometimes endless) delays for the researcher looking to obtain resources quickly.  Our MTA system has streamlined the process by standardizing the agreements across most institutions and by allowing for electronic signatures to complete the process. Time for MTA approval has been halved, with the median time now less than 36 hours. It is our hope to create a similar system for academia/industry plasmid transfer and perhaps to make this system available to other organizations.

Working at Addgene is getting to be more fun every day.  Members of our community don’t just like Addgene, they “love” Addgene.  We actually get fan mail.  Depositing scientists are increasingly getting into the swing of sharing key information and advice on their plasmid data pages.  Our depositors recruit more depositors, helping us to broaden our community.  Requesting scientists tell us that they do science differently now thanks to being able to order plasmid from our large library.  Perhaps you once designed an experiment where you needed plasmids encoding 10 different genes—and perhaps you gave up on that experiment because the thought of writing to 10 different labs to beg for plasmids was not appealing.  With one order to Addgene you can be doing that study in days.

Larger collaborative scientific projects are going to require more communication and sharing between laboratories and organizations.  We hope increased use of our library will encourage such sharing and spur more rapid scientific progress.

[about_box image=””]Dr. Kamens received her PhD in Genetics from Harvard Medical School then spent 15 years at BASF/Abbott where she led discovery research projects on small molecule and antibody approaches to inflammatory diseases, ultimately serving as Group Leader in Molecular Biology.   In 2007 she joined RXi Pharmaceuticals as Director of Discovery and concluded there as Senior Director of Research Collaborations.  In 2011, Dr. Kamens became the Executive Director of Addgene, a mission driven, non-profit dedicated to helping scientists around the world collaborate. She has been raising awareness of women scientists since 1998 upon realizing that an entire week had gone by at work and not one other woman had been at any meeting she attended.  Dr. Kamens founded the Boston chapter of AWIS and serves as a Director at large for the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association Boston Chapter. Follow her on Twitter: @jkamens[/about_box]


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