Get into Biohacking on the Cheap with this Electrophoresis Rig

If you want to get into electronics, it’s pretty straightforward: read up a little, buy a breadboard and some parts, and go to town. Getting into molecular biology as a hobby, however, presents some challenges. The knowledge is all out there, true, but finding the equipment can be a problem, and what’s out there tends to be fiendishly expensive.

So many would-be biohackers end up making their own equipment, like this DIY gel electrophoresis rig. Electrophoresis sorts macromolecules like DNA or proteins by size using an electric field. For DNA, a slab of agarose gel is immersed in a buffer solution and a current through the tank moves the DNA through the gel. The shorter the DNA fragment, the easier it can wiggle through the pores in the gel, and the faster it migrates down the gel. [abizar]’s first attempt at a DIY gel rig involved a lot of plastic cutting and solvent welding, so he simplified the process by using the little plastic drawers from an old parts cabinet. With nichrome and platinum wires for electrodes for the modified ATX power supply, it’s just the right size and shape for the gel, which is cast in a separate mold. The video below shows the whole build, and while [abizar] doesn’t offer much detail on recipes or techniques, there are plenty of videos online to guide you.

Need more apparatus to deck out your lab? We’ve got you covered there too.

29 thoughts on “Get into Biohacking on the Cheap with this Electrophoresis Rig

  1. Microbiologist studying in EE here (weird right!). Just so you know, it is strictly illegal to make any kind of tests with human material, including yours without permit (which are almost impossible to get). Your DNA is not yours when it come down to the laws. There are HUGE fines if you get caught doing so. At least, it’s the case in Canada. Still cool though!

      1. OMG!

        Blade Runner

        Biohacking. And we’re witnessing the start of it right here on HAD! Admit that just like the radio/ham hobby it will take years before they build up enough steam to get much accomplishment or notice, but this is gonna turn into home hobby in back room. There will be serious work for that 3D printer perhaps. Gummi Worms for real!

      1. Generally *genetic engineering* is regulated (which simply running a gel is not) and providing *medical advice* or *medical diagnostics* is regulated – think 23&Me controversy.

        Running a PCR and a gel with a human template isn’t prohibited itself, but if you interpret any genotype information from the gel and give diagnostic advice from that without accreditation that may get you in trouble.

    1. citation needed, since you’re trying to generalize from a specific case (canada). we did electrophoresis gels on our own samples in college, so I seriously doubt that putting a drop of one’s own DNA in a gel is going to result in the cops showing up and YUUUUGE fines.

  2. Great idea, but I’m not sure everyone would have a single “parts draw” to sacrifice. I wonder if the geometry is all that important outside the gel tray so long as there is an electrochemical gradient formed? Perhaps in that case cheap disposable food containers and non-transparent items would suffice?

    1. Then use your own imagination on how to get a small rectangular flat container made from plastic or glass. I think you will have more difficult problems to solve if you really want to start experimenting with molecular biology.

      1. Why did you answer without answering the question while making comments that ignore what I did observer, are you retarded? Does the shape matter if the gel tray geometry is OK, so long st there is a gradient across it? Is it that you actually know so little about the subject that you don’t understand the question, is that your problem?

        1. I think I somehow missed your last sentence. No, the shape does not matter very much. You need a field gradient and ideally a somewhat homogeneous field structure between the electrodes. Think of the field configuration of a plate capacitor or analogous of two magnetic poles.
          But I consider you very rude, in your answer, especially for a guy with not decipherable number blocks instead of a name who “observered” (?) something.

    2. Ex-molecular biologist here: geometry doesn’t particularly matter outside of the electrode and gel orientation. E.g. there are vertical versions of electrophoresis machines too. I actually prefer those, since you can run multiple gels at once and add a frozen insert to keep temperatures down. Downside is that they tend to use more buffer.

      A clear top is pretty important so you can visually make sure your gel runs to the right point, but the rest of the machine could be opaque no problem.

    1. That does narrow the field a lot… save for those that do it for both a living and a hobby, plus add a few more that are simply obsessed… and they will light the path for others… and more will join. It will progress just as radio and enthusiasm for cars did. Mishaps included.

      My observation is that those whom do a thing both as living and as a hobby are the most formidable and well supplied… and our myths, stories, and movies are full of them, even idolizing them in many cases.

      My comment about gummi worms was not a jest.

      1. “Biohacking” isn’t something you can casually get in to and hope to do anything remotely useful/interesting. Learning protocols is a hands-on activity that you won’t get from a book, so being part of a lab/community is an absolute necessity, at least until you reach a certain level.

        Not having access to the most basic supplies (a gel box) shows you have a long way to go and you might be better served by simply seeking out others at a university lab, hackerspaces, etc.

  3. You really only need to achieve 80 volts at 35 MA for a proper DNA electrophoresis setup, 135 V for SDS-PAGE for proteins. At that rate, about 40 minutes to an hour and a half would separate DNA pretty well. The downside being, the faster you separate (higher voltage), the more the bands tend to clump together, which results in lowered resolution. Also, you could probably achieve the same thing with an old power supply that you don’t want to fry.

  4. The good old student eliminator. Maybe I recall incorrectly, but don’t proper electrophoresis supplies have a constant power mode? We used to call them the best electrocution machine money can buy. If resistance goes up, voltage goes up until the power is at the set point. The supply will do whatever it has to that will make sure you are dead. Lab equipment has lockouts and safety switches. Just an FYI for anyone wanting to buy surplus equipment

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