three leveled tree diagram of sample lineage from sample tracking feature of labkey

What is Sample Tracking?


Know the “what, where and why” of your lab samples

What is sample tracking? Let’s start with a common scenario. A post-doc from two years ago collected a few dozen samples that would be really valuable to re-analyze with your new lab toy. But where are those samples? You could consider trying to regenerate the samples rather than finding them in your freezer. But then you realize you don’t have that strain of mice anymore, so you go searching.

First, you go to their old notebooks and see if you can track them down. After searching in several notebooks, you find that they stored them in the -80C in a box called “My samples”. So, you look through your freezers to finally find the box, and see that they are labelled with a date (yay!) and a numeric value 1-40. You go back to the lab notebook (which one was it again?!) and map these numeric values to the information stored in the notebook.

tops of several microcentrifuge tubes with hand written labelsSo what is sample tracking? It’s just recording the what, where, and why of your samples for everyone in the lab who needs access to those samples. The scenario above is a concise example of how the right sample tracking procedures and sample management software could save your lab time and resources.

Click here to learn how Sample Manager can help your lab.


Sample tracking in the lab

Accurate and efficient sample tracking is an important function of all well-organized labs. In order to identify, use and understand the context of a sample after it’s been collected, lab staff should at a minimum collect and notate the following information:

  • The properties of the sample (name, unique ID, where it was derived from, volume, etc.)
  • The location of the sample
  • Any activities or assays that the sample has been a part of
  • The current status of a sample at any given time

Many labs are now capturing this information electronically, whether it’s via a spreadsheet or with a sample management system. Thoughtfully designed systems and procedures are key to making sample tracking an easy and efficient process. However, designating resources upfront for these efforts can be difficult to prioritize for some labs. Labs that use particularly valuable samples or deal with a large volume of samples or specimens may find the resources are well worth the investment, potentially both in personnel and software and equipment.

Some essential equipment that is useful while setting up a sample tracking system includes:

  • Freezer proof labels and markers
  • Barcode scanners and barcode printers
  • Organization essentials like quality freezer racks, bins, bags or shelves (use what makes sense for your lab)
  • Sample tracking software


Tracking samples with LabKey Sample Manager

Sample Tracking over view with LabKey Sample ManagerLabKey Sample Manager is an intuitively designed sample management application that brings ease and efficiency to sample tracking. The application has various features to assist in sample tracking including:

Sample Timeline – Track chain-of-custody and events for a samples such as assays performed, volume changes, and inclusion in workflow jobs.

Sample Sources – Assign sources to a sample to better understand the broader picture of the sample within the laboratory, experiment or study.

Sample Types – Organize samples by type and add data fields for that type to describe attributes of samples for easy tracking.

Freezer Management – Track the storage location of samples and freezer capacity.

Unique Sample IDs and Naming Patterns – Each sample in the system is required to have a unique name/id within its sample type. You can either choose the unique ID yourself or have it generated by the system using a naming pattern that can be customized by an administrator.

Tools for Tracking Sample Lineage – Sample Manager includes a lineage graph that provides a visual representation of the parentage of samples as well a lineage grid can be helpful when viewing lengthy lineages or derivation histories.

Click here to take a tour of Sample Manager!