The Digital Lab Notebook for Life Sciences, Now Starting at Free

Balaji Srinivasan

Life scientists currently spend more than 180 billion dollars every year to generate precious research results. Yet they don’t spend anywhere near as much effort on making the results of that research reproducible, searchable, and machine-readable. This results in needless waste and duplication; to paraphrase the famous saying, “Half the money we spend on research is repeated; the trouble is we don’t know which half.”

The classic solution has been the physical laboratory notebook. However, in an era of geographically distributed conglomerates, massive biomedical datasets, and increasingly computerized workflows, we will not attain reproducible research through good note-taking alone. We need modern tools.

That’s where Sajith Wickramasekara and Ashutosh Singhal of Benchling come in. They’ve built a suite of apps, centered around a digital laboratory notebook, that help life scientists design, run, record, and search the results of their very expensive experiments. Built by their team of fellow MIT engineers, Benchling’s technology has already been adopted by thousands of scientists across both industry and academia, and has a serious chance at becoming to biomedicine what GitHub has become to software engineering.

To understand the problem they are solving, it’s useful to review the state of data in the life sciences. Current systems separate each type of data scientists use into its own silo, making recreating the full context and results of an experiment impossible. The tools are poorly designed and don’t take advantage of the web, making sharing data difficult and wasting expensive researcher time on searching for old work or redoing known results. Imagine a software engineering team working without version control and you’ll have a sense of the status quo for most life science labs.

Benchling changes all that with a multipart offering for scientists that is, as of today, free for general use. The Benchling suite begins with single-purpose tools for cloning, gels, colony picking, primer design, and more. All of these different apps are connected to the scientist’s electronic lab notebook in the cloud. For the first time, the place where scientists do work is connected to where the work is recorded. Every action in Benchling is tracked, versioned, and can be retraced in the future. Instead of a paper notebook, scientists record observations and notes inline with the actual work they are doing, and can search across all of their lab’s current and historical information.

The result has been a crowd pleaser in the life sciences. Scientists love it because it’s well designed and unifies many disparate tools in one interface. Managers love it because they get visibility into what their scientists are doing. And executives love the sophisticated archival functionality as it helps organizations capture and preserve institutional knowledge such that when people leave the company, knowledge doesn’t leave with them.

With thousands of customers (including both academic labs and pharma companies) already on the Benchling platform, we believe their future is bright. That’s why I’m proud to announce that Andreessen Horowitz is leading a $5 million round of funding in Benchling to scale their operations. Our bet is simple: if a lab is spending a few million per year on generating precious life science data, they’ll now probably want to try Benchling out for free to make sure they don’t unnecessarily spend a few million more.

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