Quantification of bacterial fluorescence using independent calibrants
Fluorescent reporters are commonly used to quantify activities or properties of both natural and engineered cells. Fluorescence is still typically reported only in arbitrary or normalized units, however, rather than in units defined using an independent calibrant, which is problematic for scientific reproducibility and even more so when it comes to effective engineering. In this paper, we report an interlaboratory study showing that simple, low-cost unit calibration protocols can remedy this situation, producing comparable units and dramatic improvements in precision over both arbitrary and normalized units. Participants at 92 institutions around the world measured fluorescence from E. coli transformed with three engineered test plasmids, plus positive and negative controls, using simple, low-cost unit calibration protocols designed for use with a plate reader and/or flow cytometer. In addition to providing comparable units, use of an independent calibrant allows quantitative use of positive and negative controls to identify likely instances of protocol failure. The use of independent calibrants thus allows order of magnitude improvements in precision, narrowing the 95% confidence interval of measurements in our study up to 600-fold compared to normalized units.