With the wave of digitization upgrading how we all handle
and share data, the age of information management systems designed to serve the laboratory environment has also arrived.
Tools such as laboratory information management systems
(LIMS) and electronic laboratory notebooks (ELNs) are disrupting the lab’s dependence on manual data entry, analogue tools
and time-consuming operating procedures. Instead, the modern
lab has switched out paper manuals and notebooks for cloud-based systems that maximize throughput and at the same time
preserve data integrity.
By Simon Bungers, Ph.D., labfolder
What’s the difference between
a LIMS and an ELN?
But what are these tools exactly, and
how do you choose between a LIMS and
Simply put, LIMS automate data entry, to reduce risk of error when copying
results or interpreting an instrument’s output, like data points on a graph. On the
other hand, an ELN looks to replace the
paper-based lab notebook with more customizable data entry, for a more context
However, there is a lot of overlap between each packages’ features, and this
has led to some confusion regarding
which tool is best suited to what task.
Apples and pears
One common misperception is that you
must choose to adopt either a LIMS or an
ELN depending on the general focus of
the lab, and that the two rather different
species of software package do not integrate well together.
To an extent this is true.
This is because as labs handle both
structured data (e.g., pH values, masses or
quantities of reagents) and unstructured
data (e.g., images, chemical formulae), the
tackling of both camps has required the
design and construction of two distinct
software packages: LIMS for structured
data and ELNs for unstructured.
As a result, setups such as those in industry QA/QC labs would lean towards
the adoption of a LIMS over an ELN, to
accommodate data entry where many experiments are repeat runs. Instead R&D
labs—or postdocs—might invest in an
ELN for a more freeform, adaptable research framework.
However, although both LIMS and ELNs
are distinct from one another, like two
types of fruit they do complement each
other in the general laboratory informatics
basket. For this reason, newer generations
of each type of software are starting to plug
the gap between them to bring together features from both ELNs and LIMS to
But firstly, let’s outline a comparison for
the Best Tool
The modern lab has switched out paper
manuals and notebooks for cloud-based
systems that maximize throughput and at
the same time preserve data integrity