The antibody horror show: an introductory guide for the perplexed

N Biotechnol. 2018 Oct 25;45:9-13. doi: 10.1016/j.nbt.2018.01.006. Epub 2018 Feb 3.


The biological literature reverberates with the inadequacies of commercial research-tool antibodies. The scientific community spends some $2 billion per year on such reagents. Excellent accessible scientific platforms exist for reliably making, validating and using antibodies, yet the laboratory end-user reality is somehow depressing - because they often "don't work". This experience is due to a bizarre and variegated spectrum of causes including: inadequately identified antibodies; inappropriate user and supplier validation; poor user training; and overloaded publishers. Colourful as this may appear, the outcomes for the community are uniformly grim, including badly damaged scientific careers, wasted public funding, and contaminated literature. As antibodies are amongst the most important of everyday reagents in cell biology and biochemistry, I have tried here to gently suggest a few possible solutions, including: a move towards using recombinant antibodies; obligatory unique identification of antibodies, their immunogens, and their producers; centralized international banking of standard antibodies and their ligands; routine, accessible open-source documentation of user experience with antibodies; and antibody-user certification.

Keywords: Commercial antibodies; Community reporting; Reproducibility; User-Training; Validation.

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies / immunology*
  • Antibody Specificity / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Recombinant Proteins / immunology
  • Reproducibility of Results


  • Antibodies
  • Recombinant Proteins