Thursday, April 24, 2008

Research On The Cheap 2: DIY Lab Supplies

How To Run A Lab (As) Cheaply (As Possible)

I encourage commentary; additional suggestions will be appended. (Please only comment on the things listed in this post; more to follow.)

Part 1: Recycling and Repair

4. Learn to make things.
  • If you've not bought many things for labs, you'll be amazed how much they cost. Gel tanks: $350 and up. A lot of equipment can be cobbled together, with creativity. It's worth it to make some things yourself, but do a cost/time analysis first. Check and see how complicated basic [thing] is before you buy or make one.
  • Newark Electronics sells everything.
  • Horizontal gel boxes: jigsaw, plexiglass, epoxy, some Pt wire, some long wires, a couple connectors, electrical tape. (Disassembled lamps and so on provide excellent recyclable wires and plugs. Scrap plexiglass can sometimes be had free from companies or the shop.)
  • Miniprep columns: plastic spin filters (Sigma et al.) and a little silica gel (about $80 for 500 g; but a kit for 250 preps runs about $300).
  • Find a machine shop and a glassblower if possible (some do work by mail). The machine shop can make you gel plates and the glassblower will repair that $200 flask for $20. Most expensive glassware is worth repairing.
  • You can make your own gel-picture box with a cheap UV emitter, a cheap digital camera, a large box-like object, and ImageJ.
  • If you feel really cheap, a hot plate, a pan, and some sand make a fine constant-temp 'heat block'. (But only one temperature at a time.)
  • Someone in my lab made a plasma-cleaner from an old microwave, a vacuum pump, and some tubing.
  • Rotation-only orbital shakers cost thousands of dollars. A few large springs, some flat stuff (plexiglass works well) and a rotary-shaft motor will also do the trick. Ugly... but effective. If you throw in a variable-speed switch in front of the motor, it's adjustable-speed.
5. Mixing it yourself is cheaper than a kit.
  • Don't use a kit! There's another way, and it's much cheaper. They did it another way before the kit, of course.
  • Most things in kits you can make, including silver stain, labeling reagents, and everything from Qiagen.
  • DNA purification: PCA extraction, then glycogen and ethanol.
  • Make your own media powders if possible. Not hard.
  • Pour your own gels; buy dry acrylamide (but only if you have a fume hood!).
  • Don't ever buy a protein purification kit. Just don't.
  • High-processivity proofreading enzyme? 10:1 Pfu/Taq.
  • You can make your own Taq. And it's even legal now. The prep is basically 'Boil, spin, run over column.' You can also make: specific proteases, size ladders (buy dry proteins from Sigma), and so on.
  • Boil your own dialysis tubing.
  • Ethidium bromide really is the cheapest option. Sorry.
  • The quick ligation kits just have PEG (5000, 5%) and regular T4 in them.
  • Mutagenize DNA with primers, not a kit.
  • For most reagents, you can use much less than the instructions say. Colloidal coomassie: 7 ml/minigel. TOPO: 0.25 uL works too.
  • Learn tricks. Like: 0.5 M salt in a blot reduces nonspecific bands dramatically. Or: there's no way to predict which PCR additive will work best, but start with DMSO. ('Additive Q' is 100% betaine. Someone put it through an NMR.) Some specialty journals, including Electrophoresis, have entire papers on tricks.
Next and Finally: Think, Then Haggle, Before You Buy