The complicated side of science

Lab Note #29
May 22, 2014
Our goal with the Dicty World Race was ambitious - to find the smartest and fastest cells in the world!  This year’s race provided an exciting, direct comparison of the ability of various types of cells to chemotax.  It also provided important lessons on how to conduct such a comparison in a fair, robust, and reproducible way.  As is often the case with scientific experiments and ambitious undertakings, our first Race did not go entirely according to plan.  

1. We had more fun and the lab got more crowded than we ever expected! 

2. We encountered difficulties despite our planning.  Some are worth mentioning, so that next year we can strive to improve on these shortcomings.
  • We received 15 cell lines, 12 Dicty and 3 HL60. Six cell lines showed robust migration through the mazes and reached the end (teams 7, 11, 12, 15, 17, 4). Three lines (teams 1, 9, 18) were slow to start moving (more than 1 hour before entering the race) and by the end of 5 hours, only a few cells crossed the finish line. In the case of cell lines from teams 10 and 20, cells were alive and entered the devices but they did not migrate towards the mazes.
  • There was a case of mold contamination, from which cells may not have fully recovered in time.  Think of athletes getting the flue right before the big day.  This problem likely affected teams 1 and 18.  Some Dicty cells did not grow fast enough and did not reach large enough numbers before the race, which might have delayed their proper development.  This problem likely affected teams 9 and 20.  This is a known issue for Dicty, and having cells that were precocious in their development was a strategy that helped team 15 raise to the fourth place. 
  • Some cells did not take the trip in an ice box across Atlantic very well and could not be resuscitated on arrival.  A new batch of cells shipped overnight by team 19 and arrived to our lab just two hours before the race.  Now that was some serious jet lag to overcome!  Many cells moved but their decision making was impaired.
  • Reduced adhesion of cells in our devices likely affected the performance of HL60 strain 5. Think about how tricky the choice of tires can be when a race takes place on a rainy day.

3. We are taking these lessons into account as we devise our plans for next year’s Dicty World Race. And, as we learned from Jan's team in Hamburg (meritorious third place), there is no substitute for training hard for the Races (photo credit: Alexander Junemann, Christorf Franke, and Stefan Bruehmann). This may hold true both for the teams and the organizers :)

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