‘Omics pipeline builders and users face options and tough decisions.
Welcome to Nature Research Tech, our home for life-science technology coverage from across Nature Research.
Here, we spotlight the technology behind the science, allowing the materials, methods, and instrumentation that make science possible to take center stage. Our goal: to provide current and need-to-know information that scientists can implement in their own labs.
Nature technology editor Jeffrey Perkel also blogs regularly about new scientific tools at Naturejobs; you can access his posts here. Nature Methods' technology editor Vivien Marx and the Nature Methods team blog at Methagora.
As metagenomics advances, virus hunters are finding novel infections in colonies of laboratory mice across the world. What that means for scientific research and the animals themselves can depend on the mouse.
Researchers are developing technologies to find and grow microbes that biologists have struggled to culture in the lab.
Abandoned experiments have to be restarted — sometimes from scratch.
Computational approaches help to map the extensive biochemical chatter between bacteria and their human hosts.
Phase separation creates complex condensates in eukaryotic cells. To study these mysterious droplets, many disciplines come together.
As COVID-19 continues to spread, the urgency of the hunt for effective therapeutics and vaccines has likewise grown. As with past outbreaks, animal models will be an important component of efforts to understand how the SARS-CoV-2 virus causes disease, and how best to defeat it.
DIY approaches help to minimize plastic use and energy waste in science research.
To bridge brains and make the most of their nonhuman primate models, neuroscientists are setting standards, building tools, and starting to share their neuroimaging data.
Artificial-intelligence methods are moving into cancer research.
To thwart SARS-CoV-2, labs hurry to hone assays, swap findings and share resources.
Personalizing zebrafish and fly models may help determine the best course of treatment for cancer patients.
T cells race to the scene in cancer and infection. To tease out what is special in cancer, scientists widen their scope and tool sets.
Researchers are finally uncovering the truth about glycans — the sugar-based chains that coat cells and decorate many proteins.
As researchers look for more mammalian alternatives, an old moth is learning new tricks.
A powerful set of molecular tools helps synthetic biologists to assemble DNA of different sizes, from the gene to the chromosome scale.
Some -omics tools can be more accurate, sensitive or efficient than others. Yet benchmarking is no tell-all.
Could a ‘lab rat’ for the coral field help researchers conserve these threatened animals in the wild?
Microbiologists stake their claim: assessing climate change involves new ways of studying the ocean’s microbes.
Thought leaders predict the tech developments that could have a big impact in the coming year.
Change is a constant in the burgeoning field of metabolomics. That includes data analysis tools and repositories.
Applying the molecular scissors to animals at scale is helping researchers delve into the potential roles of different genes.
Microscopy has been a trade-off until now: the bigger the sample, the lower the resolution. But picking out cellular detail in mouse brains and more is becoming increasingly possible.
Label-free imaging lets labs ‘see’ their samples less invasively than other techniques.
A new class of CRISPR-based tools efficiently corrects point mutations in cell lines, animal models and perhaps the clinic.
Whether the animal has a few hundred neurons or a few billion, mapping the ‘brain’ is a complex endeavor for which there are several different tacks one might take. Data collection continues on.
Mechanical measurements would be easy if cells were homogeneous objects — they’re not.
Genetically encoded voltage indicators change colour in real time when neurons transmit electrical information, offering unprecedented insight into neural activity.
The tools of chemical biology, genomics and data mining can yield insights into the metabolites of the microbiome.
Labs in different neuropsychiatry subfields don’t always see eye to eye, but convergent approaches help them join forces to study these difficult conditions.
Caring for lab animals is always a priority. But some, depending on the research they are being used for, can require extra attention. As the animals in question get bigger, the task of keeping them in contained facilities can just get a bit more challenging.
Some advocates are betting that documenting experimental plans online will improve animal research, but uptake has been slow.
Alzheimer’s disease remains untreatable, despite decades of preclinical research to understand it better and find therapeutic targets. New ways of thinking about a variety animal models are rising to the challenge.
Combining the data-analysis tool Starfish with technologies to pinpoint RNA’s cellular locations can add spatial detail to in situ transcriptomics.
As single-cell proteomics emerges, perhaps labs can avoid the need to infer protein levels from mRNA abundances.
Nanopore sequencing’s early adopters are pushing the limits of what can be achieved with ultra-long DNA reads, and they are also finding innovative ways to apply this technology to other biological questions.
A new breed of protein engineers is finding that the best way to create a molecule is to build it from scratch.
There are animals out there with unique phenotypes that could yield insight into human health and disease. Meet three such fishes from waters around the world: Antarctic icefish, Mexican cavefish, and Atlantic killfish.
Ecologists are monitoring biodiversity using DNA shed by wildlife into the environment.
The gut, plant roots, ocean sediments: microbiome engineers travel to explore and model microbially complex systems.
These 3D structures derived from human cells can be an improvement over simple cell lines, but organoids can still lack important physiological cues for development. Finding the right in vivo environment can take things a step further.
Do-it-yourself projects give researchers the equipment they need at bargain prices. But making your own technology requires commitment and time, and it is rarely easy.
Researchers can’t sit their laboratory mice or fruit flies down and ask them how they’re feeling or why they’re behaving in a particular way. Instead, humans are left to observe and interpret the various clues their animals provide. Can machines help?
To apply machine learning, labs needn’t have years of computational expertise, but they do need a cautious mind-set.
Researchers are realizing that the DNA–protein complex doesn’t just have one form but many.
The materials–biology interface is challenging to characterize, but new assays are on the way.
A new class of chemical instrumentation seeks to alleviate the tedium and complexity of organic syntheses.
As methods to create new mouse models advance, protecting the intellectual property those animals represent is getting more complicated.
ChIP-seq, DIP-seq and related techniques are informative genome-wide assays, but they don’t always work as planned.
In the age of immunotherapy, cancer biologists are relying on a new generation of tools to learn how the interplay between tumours and immune cells shapes the course of disease.
Genome sequencing technologies are improving, and researchers have their eyes on a lot more animals.
Labs combine techniques to study why cancer cells are so metabolically flexible.
The extracellular matrix governs a surprising number of cellular functions. New techniques are revealing how cells and matrix communicate — and why this cross-talk matters.
Large animal models can be important translational steps between basic research in rodents and clinical care in humans. Ever thought about a pig?
From higher-resolution imaging to genome-sized DNA molecules built from scratch, the year ahead looks exciting for life-science technology.
Can the computer eliminate the lab animal? As computational methods become more advanced and data more freely available, in silico modeling approaches have growing potential to help reduce the number of animals needed to test chemical toxicity.
ERCC 2.0, spike-in controls and other metrics in genomics and metagenomics.
Octopuses, squids, and cuttlefishes all have potential as lab animals. As models emerge, what goes in to keeping them happy and healthy in the lab?
Techniques that render tissues as clear as glass and swell them to several times their original size are giving unprecedented access to the inner workings of biological systems.
Users of super-resolution imaging describe how they match probes to imaging modalities
No longer just ‘brain glue’, astrocytes are coming to the fore as a broadening toolset reveals the cells’ complexity and diversity.
New types of 2D and 3D brain models capture more physiology.
In vivo bioluminescence imaging offers a non-invasive look inside the body. Its future looks bright.
A way to gene edit without double-stranded DNA breaks is now entering labs.
As the imaging technique produces ever-sharper protein structures, researchers are racing to develop tools to assess how accurate they are.
Why handle a mouse if your experiment can be done from the comfort of its home cage?
Methods choice is broad and labs are pushing protocols to address expansive biological questions.
Small but dedicated communities are bringing the earliest lineages of the animal kingdom into the lab. Take a look at the ctenophores, the sponges, and the placozoans.
A simple software toolset can help to ease the pain of reproducing computational analyses.
Cryo-electron tomography (cryo-ET) advances can ease the path to 3D renderings of cellular architecture.
A human can’t easily infiltrate another species’ social group to examine and influence what makes the animals tick. But the right robot can open up a clever way in.
Outdated genome-sequencing machines need not die — researchers can repurpose them to drive next-generation biochemistry studies.
Comparative methods are used to study vocalization in songbirds and bats.
Adhering to mouse nomenclature guidelines ensures that research is discoverable, replicable, and less wasteful. So why don’t researchers do it?
Human stem cells are yielding 3D miniature tissues that can be used to study both normal human biology and human disease in vitro.
Multipotent stem cells can become a variety of cell types. A flurry of new approaches enable lineage tracing at single-cell resolution.
When existing systems don’t get the job done, a growing community of researchers are customizing—and sharing—their own solutions.
Protein- and sequencing-based technologies are helping researchers to profile immune cells ever more deeply.
Many factors can skew the results of a widely used amplification technique for microbiome analysis, but researchers are finding strategies for getting at the truth.
Warmer living conditions could make lab mice better models of human disease.
Advances in gene editing are allowing researchers to create mouse models that more closely mirror the disease in humans.
When asleep, cancer cells can evade chemo. When they wake up, they can cause cancer recurrence. By deciphering dormancy cues, labs explore how to break this cycle.
Atomic force microscopy is revealing molecular structures with startling clarity. Artificial intelligence and automation could expand its potential.
In microfluidics, sharing is hard. But practitioners are exploring new ways to share designs, devices and experience.
A popular artificial-intelligence method provides a powerful tool for surveying and classifying biological data. But for the uninitiated, the technology poses significant difficulties.
The regulome—the part of the genome that regulates function—includes noncoding RNAs with varied functions yet to be deciphered.
Thought leaders reveal the technologies and topics likely to transform life-science research in the year ahead.
Fats add structure, they signal, they interact. In the lab, lipids are tough to work with but worth the challenge.
Aberrations hinder clear imaging, but an array of options help to correct much distortion.
A small community of scientists has taken a do-it-yourself approach to microscopy: when the right tool for the job doesn’t exist, make it.
Ultrasonic energy can be harnessed to alter brain activity and treat disease — but first, scientists need to learn how it works.
A wealth of spatial techniques capture the 'where' of gene expression.
Offering long reads and rapidly improving accuracy, nanopore sequencing has the potential to upend the DNA sequencing market.
Trial, error and the art of optimizing 'molecular rulers' that sense molecules or interactions.
Improvements in mapping protein–protein interactions are allowing researchers to deconstruct the delicate mechanics of cells.
X-ray beams at 27,000 pulses per second promise high-resolution views of macromolecules.
Chemical probes and screening libraries can easily get mixed up or messed up, causing misleading results for unwary biologists.
Coaxing ancient DNA to reveal its history delivers surprises and even improves ways of working with badly damaged present-day DNA.
After tackling the genomes of bacteria and yeast, synthetic biologists are setting their sights on rewriting those of more complex organisms, including humans.
Carbohydrates are tough molecules to study, but glycoscientists are developing and democratizing the needed tools.
Researchers are exploiting the structural properties of DNA to build nanoscale models for use in medicine and materials science.
3D human cell cultures are changing the way scientists model organ development and function—but they have their own set of complications.
Microfluidic devices filled with intricate channels that exploit fluid behaviour promise to make it easier to diagnose genetic disease.
Mobile phones are helping to take conventional laboratory-based science into the field, the classroom and the clinic.
PCR duplicates—sequencing reads from the same original genomic fragment—can cause headaches. But there are remedies.
Innovative tools are revealing the forces that guide cellular processes such as embryonic development and tumour growth.
Many possibilities for parsing cancer emerge when labs combine gene editing and screens. And RNAi retains its spot in the menu of options.
Innovative techniques are giving researchers unprecedented access to the inner workings of the immune system.
The tools that clock a cell's everyday affairs reveal plenty that's out of the ordinary.
As researchers open up to the reality of RNA modification, an expanded epitranscriptomics toolbox takes shape.
Efforts to pare away cellular genomes are yielding streamlined biosynthetic factories and deeper insights into the core processes of biology.
Neuroscientists are starting to share and integrate data — but shifting to a team approach isn't easy.
Sensitive mass spectrometry and innovative cell-sampling techniques allow researchers to profile metabolites in single cells, but the field is still in its infancy.
A maturing open hardware and open-source software movement seeks to expand DIY light-sheet microscopy.
Neurobiologists are coming up with innovative ways to get high-resolution pictures of the whole brain at work.
Many neuroscience labs are intrigued by these social, vocalizing primates.
DNA folding shapes gene expression. Emerging techniques promise to reveal the intricacies of this architectural language of chromosomes.
Numerous variables can torpedo attempts to replicate cell experiments, from the batch of serum to the shape of growth plates. But there are ways to ensure reliability.
Scientists are uncovering the hidden switches in our genome that dial gene expression up and down, but much work lies ahead to peel back the many layers of regulation.
Structural biologists are at last living the dream of visualizing macromolecules to uncover their function. But it means integrating different technologies, and that's no easy feat.
Labs can generate neurons from pluripotent stem cells to study basic biology and to model disease. Protocols are getting more robust, and labs add personal preferences.
Research into ageing requires patience, but a small cadre of scientists is angling to speed up answers by developing the flamboyant, short-lived turquoise killifish as a new model.
Cell-based assays are less routine for plant biologists than for researchers who work with animal or human cells, but that is changing.
Ways to directly convert one mature cell type into another may eventually offer a safer, faster strategy for regenerative medicine.
Infidelity is painful in life and in the lab. The former is better left to other publications; the latter is best not ignored, especially in the context of PCR-based DNA amplification.
A suite of tools now enables scientists to see proteins at work in living cells at the single-molecule level.
Tools are emerging to help labs trawl for sequences that reveal microbial strains and their functional potential in deep pools of metagenomic data.
Liquid biopsies can detect cancer signs from a blood sample, without the need for invasive procedures. But further work is needed before they can become reliable diagnostic tools.
Emerging ways to lower the error rate when hunting low-frequency mutations.
Scientists are designing cells that can manufacture drugs, food and materials — and even act as diagnostic biosensors. But first they must agree on a set of engineering tools.
Probes and imaging finesse for a clearer view of tissue.
Drug discovery is a daunting process that requires chemists to sift through millions of chemicals to find a single hit. DNA technology can dramatically speed up the search.
Both tried-and-true and new assays are helping labs to assess methylation at particular loci and from single cells.
Little is known about the function of most long non-coding RNAs. But a suite of new tools might change that.
New approaches expand the range and size of materials that can be inserted into a cell.
The optogenetics techniques that have long been used in neuroscience are now giving biologists the power to probe cellular structures with unprecedented precision.
A growing research community studies autophagy—a process of cellular recycling and maintenance—but there are some hot-button methodological issues.
Antibodies used in research often give murky results. Broader awareness and advanced technologies promise clarity.
It's been a long wait for nanopore sequencing technology. Over 1,000 labs are testing the first commercial device and publishing results. Researchers tell Nature Methods about their experiences putting these early instruments through their paces. And more technology is in the works.
Nanoscopes capable of super-resolution offer scientists intricate views of a world beyond the limits of conventional microscopes — but not every technique fits all imaging needs.
Working at a variety of scales and with disparate organisms and technologies, researchers are mapping how parts of the brain connect.
Genetically encoded voltage sensors are coming of age, but their use still poses challenges that must be addressed from multiple angles.
Cutting-edge tools and analyses are digging deeper than ever before to unveil the intricacies of the diverse human immune system.
A number of techniques address the location of proteins within cells.
The United Kingdom aims to sequence 100,000 human genomes by 2017. But screening them for disease-causing variants will require innovative software.
Large-scale phenotyping is generating much data that geneticists can harness. Amid the excitement about the possibilities, there are some points of caution.
Measuring how much a fruit fly eats opens the door to studies of metabolism and aging. But the assays are hotly debated.
The body's organs are more complex than any factory. Attempts to mirror their physiology in the laboratory are getting closer to capturing their intricacies.
Sometimes a drug causes a tumour to completely recede, but only in a tiny percentage of people. Scientists want to decipher such outlier responses for the benefit of all patients.
Data integration and tool interoperability can ease analyses of cancer 'omics data and yield surprises.
Blinking and photobleaching of fluorophores cause challenges in a whole range of imaging experiments. Here are some ways researchers are approaching fluorophore photostability.
Cutting-edge tools that can identify the characteristics of cells are helping researchers to develop more-effective vaccines.
Moving and sorting cells with sound are a few of the possible applications for this no-contact technique.
The processes behind neuronal communication have not yet been resolved in detail, but dyes, microscopy and protein analysis are beginning to fill in the gaps.
When healthy parents have a child with a genetic disorder, the cause is sometimes a new mutation. Tools are emerging to meet the challenge of finding such changes.
Bacteria can coat everything from thermal springs to teeth. Researchers are looking for antibiotics that can subvert the signalling that the microbes use to carve their niche.
The first draft of the complete human proteome has been more than a decade in the making. In the process, the effort has also delivered lessons about technology and biology.
Beams of charged particles can treat cancer more safely and effectively than X-rays. Physicists and biomedical researchers are working to refine the technology for wider use.
Instruments for studying microbes under biological containment cannot be readily removed from labs for servicing. A US facility is finding ways around that problem.
What project-management software can do for scientists.
Developers hope that tools for processing natural language will help biomedical researchers and clinicians to find the COVID-19 papers that they need.
Research-optimized tools can take notes, dictate instructions and answer questions, allowing researchers to work hands-free.
A growing emphasis on do-it-yourself science is helping researchers to equip labs in resource-limited areas.
Google, Apple and researchers partner to build more secure and effective tools, but poor adoption could blunt efficacy.
For visually impaired researchers, learning to program can be challenging. A tool called CuriO offers a multisensory route.
The web-based tool BioRender has become a staple of biomedical research drawings.
Artificial-intelligence tool aims to reveal whether research findings are supported or contradicted by subsequent studies.
Data sharing, open-source designs for medical equipment, and hobbyists are all being harnessed to combat COVID-19.
A growing suite of tools allows teams of researchers to work collectively to edit scientific documents.
A barrage of fake responses to her online questionnaire prompted psychologist Melissa Simone to ferret out the culprits.
Repositories let researchers store, share and access life‑science images — and maybe even extract new findings.
Laboratory heads are deploying apps and software in innovative ways to build broad and diverse research groups.
Big data are difficult to handle. These tips and tricks can smooth the way.
A small but powerful toolset makes sharing genomic data visualizations straightforward.
Container platforms let researchers run each other’s software — and check the results.
A surge in the development of artificial-intelligence technology is driving a new wave of open-source tools for analysing animal behaviour and posture.
How workflow tools can make your computational methods portable, maintainable, reproducible and shareable.
Researchers often find themselves coding algorithms in one programming language, only to have to rewrite them in a faster one. An up-and-coming language could be the answer.
Releasing lab-built open-source software often involves a mountain of unforeseen work for the developers.
Scientists are using uncrewed aircraft to map the topography of Guam’s coral reefs.
Manufacturers are ditching equation editors in word-processing software in favour of the LaTeX typesetting language. Here’s how to get started.
Users of the open-source software have posted more than 5 million comments on scholarly sites.
Researchers share their tips for working in environments with unreliable infrastructure.
Forensic anthropologist Ann Ross describes the techniques she uses to determine the age of human skeletons.
Hard-drive failures are inevitable, but data loss doesn’t have to be.
Faced with mountains of image and audio data, researchers are turning to artificial intelligence to answer pressing ecological questions.
An alternative to chemical oligonucleotide synthesis inches closer to reality.
Scientific publishing is increasingly adopting the technology underlying cryptocurrencies.
As the cost of 3D printers tumbles, researchers have begun using them to make everything from bespoke equipment for experiments to realistic models of human organs.
Computer-aided systems are helping researchers to create genetic circuits to order.
An improved architecture and enthusiastic user base are driving uptake of the open-source web tool.
NeuroData allows researchers to explore terabytes of brain images in multiple formats.
Graphics processing units aren’t just of interest to gamers and cryptocurrency miners. Increasingly, they’re being used to turbocharge academic research, too.
Marine biologists are using artificial intelligence to help them identify objects in millions of images.
As artificially intelligent tools for literature and data exploration evolve, developers seek to automate how hypotheses are generated and validated.
An oceanographer tells how she managed to host a programming workshop at a remote research station.
Choosing wisely from a burgeoning array of digital tools can help researchers to record experiments with ease.
Some computer scientists turn to voice-command tools to avoid the pain of typing.
Cut-price cartography tools are making light work of map-making.
Virtual- and augmented-reality tools allow researchers to view and share data as never before. But so far, they remain largely the tools of early adopters.
Satellite data, and the tools that ecologists use to analyse them, are more accessible and plentiful than ever.
Automated ‘smart mazes’ free behavioural researchers from the tedium of monitoring animals. They also boost data quality and reproducibility.
New tools for building interactive figures and software make scientific data more accessible, and reproducible.
Motion sensors don’t just drive gameplay. With the right software, they can scan dinosaur skulls, monitor glaciers and help robots to see.
The Bioconductor project gathers genomics tools and data into a handy package that can run in the cloud.
A collection of web-browser plug-ins is making the scholarly literature more discoverable.
Save time and protect critical code with 'continuous integration' services.
Inspired by Google Maps, a suite of tools is allowing researchers to chart the complex conformations of chromosomes.
Virtual private networks, tracking apps and 'burner' laptops: how to protect sensitive data when you take your research on the road.
Data from thousands of single cells can be tricky to analyse, but software advances are making it easier.
Containerization technology takes the hassle out of setting up software and can boost the reproducibility of data-driven research.
Getting data off an ancient floppy disk or computer tape isn't easy, but it can be done with the help of clever software and hardware.
Cheap, stripped-down microcontrollers are allowing users to pack huge amounts of computing power into tiny spaces.
New tool joins a growing collection of software for accessing fee-for-view scientific literature.
Computational biologists are starting to develop user-friendly platforms for analysing and interpreting genetic-sequence data.
The system of connecting machines and sensors is finally making its way into the laboratory, giving researchers peace of mind and restoring their work–life balance.
Eight ways labs benefit from the popular workplace messaging tool.
Recommendation engine Instrumentl aims to speed grant searching.
Researchers debate whether using a program to automatically detect inconsistencies in papers improves the literature, or raises false alarms.
The creators of the Open Syllabus Project hope that sharing data can both improve and reward teaching.
Scientists are turning to a software–development site to share data and code.
Software tools that digitize and annotate underwater images are transforming marine ecology.
Increasingly popular social-media tool says it can maximize reach and impact of research.
Inventive graphic design and abstract models are helping researchers to make sense of a glut of data.
Experiments that generate millions of images have forced scientists to find new ways to store and share terabytes of experimental data.
Neuroscientists hope to turn the delicate art of eavesdropping on brain cells into an automated technique.
Open Data Button launched to encourage public sharing of data sets.
A peer-to-peer website aims to disrupt the author-services industry.
‘Experimental Design Assistant’ helps to give feedback on research plans.
Peer-review platforms built around online pre-print repositories spread to astrophysics.
Creators of computer programs that underpin experiments don’t always get their due — so the website Depsy is trying to track the impact of research code.
Scientific publishers are forging links with an organization that wants scientists to scribble comments over online research papers.
Scientists have a surfeit of options to choose from in the competitive market of reference-management software.
Machine-readable system seeks to clearly explain who did what for a research paper.
Journal that reviews papers from preprint server aims to return publishing to the hands of academics.
Software tools that track how animals move are helping researchers to do everything from diagnosing neurological conditions to illuminating evolution.
Inventory-tracking systems range from paper filing to custom-made databases. Using the right system can save researchers time, money and frustration.
Palaeontologists hope that software can construct fossil databases directly from research papers.
Why cloud computing is attracting scientists — and advice from experienced researchers on how to get started.
Research Resource Identifier (RRID) aims to clean up poorly referenced data.
Computer scientists are trying to shore up broken links in the scholarly literature.
Published chart integrates data from outside scientists.
Consumer-oriented websites allow researchers to compare the merits of scientific journals and review their publishing experiences.
Easy-to-use mapping tools give researchers the power to create beautiful visualizations of geographic data.
A powerful programming language with huge community support.
A guide to the popular, free statistics and visualization software that gives scientists control of their own data analysis.
Start-up firms say robotics and software that autonomously record every detail of an experiment can transform the efficiency and reliability of research.
The free IPython notebook makes data analysis easier to record, understand and reproduce.
Collaborative browser-based tools aim to change the way researchers write and publish their papers.
Recommendation services claim to help researchers keep up with the most important papers without becoming overwhelmed.