Track Your Biological Inventory with a Digital Chemical Inventory Management System

biological inventory management
A digital chemical inventory management system can provide efficient management of your lab’s biological inventory.
Image source: Flickr user US Army RDECOM

If you’ve ever worked in an old lab – you know, one of those labs painted in drab beige, that wasn’t included in the upgrades everyone else got – you’ve probably experienced a run-in with old samples. Chances are, there are some samples on the back of a shelf that are from when your mother was your age. They’re probably covered with years worth of dust, poorly labeled and none of the current lab members know anything about them. Imagine reaching back through the dusty, rusted shelves and grabbing a rack of glass vials simply labeled “variola.” In case you aren’t up-to-date with your virology literature, variola is the virus that causes smallpox, the infectious disease that is believed to be eradicated since 1980. Because of its eradication, humans are no longer routinely vaccinated against the virus. I won’t describe the symptoms of infection in detail, but it’s characterized by a pustular rash with a mortality rate of around 30%. Believe it or not, this case of poor biological inventory management occurred recently at the NIH, resulting in a scare. Experts believe that the samples aren’t infectious, but I bet the guy that found them didn’t sleep well for a few nights!

Though you probably don’t have variola lying around your lab, biological inventory management is especially important for labs with freezers full of biological samples like restriction enzymes, proteins, tissue samples and reagents. Because these samples often have short shelf lives or non-standard labels and names, it can be difficult to effectively organize them within a lab. However, a digital chemical inventory management system can help your lab track its biological inventory easily and efficiently with these features:

Barcode tracking

The easiest way to manage inventory is to implement a barcode tracking system. Simply place a barcode on the container and designate its description and location. Every time you remove an aliquot or dispose of the container, a simple scan will automatically update the system. Even if your labeling rubs of when you accidentally spray ethanol on the ink, the barcode will be present to identify what’s in the container.

Freezer management

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a well-managed freezer in a lab. Typically, there will be some sort of freezer rack scaffold in which boxes are stored. The boxes are usually made out of white cardboard that basically disintegrates after you’ve been looking through it for five minutes in search of a sample. My last lab had an “inventory” list for the freezer boxes. The list was at least a decade old and had labels scratched out and reprinted. The labels were only recognizable by the person that wrote it. The list would probably get you in the vicinity of your samples, but don’t bet you’ll find a sample five minutes before you’re about to start an experiment. A digital chemical inventory management system can help you manage your freezer by maintaining a digital freezer rack layout for biological materials. It can be easily updated on any computer on the system with either manual audits or barcode scanning.

Sample volumes

It can be difficult to determine volumes in biological containers; there are often small quantities that are unmarked. But a digital system would promote users to keep a log of how much they extract at each use so that you know when samples or reagents are getting low. If your lab prepares a batch of reagent, the digital system can even split samples and maintain volume percentages of all the samples.

If you’ve got freezers full of biological samples and are concerned about how to best manage them, the Accelrys CISPro Biological Tracking Module can streamline your biological inventory processes. Visit the Accelrys website to learn more about Accelrys CISPro Options and Modules.

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