Simple, Low-Cost Rig Lets the Budding Biohacker Run DNA Gels

We all the know the basic components for building out an electronics lab: breadboards, bench power supply, a selection of components, a multimeter, and maybe an oscilloscope. But what exactly do you need when you’re setting up a biohacking lab?

That’s the question that [Justin] from The Thought Emporium is trying to answer with a series of videos where he does exactly that – build a molecular biology lab from scratch. In the current installment, [Justin] covers the basics of agarose gel electrophoresis, arguably the fundamental skill for aspiring bio-geeks. Electrophoresis is simply using an electric field to separate a population of macromolecules, like nucleic acids and proteins, based on their sizes. [Justin] covers the basics, from building a rig for running agarose gels to pouring the gels to doing the actual separation and documenting the results. Commercial grade gear for the job is priced to squeeze the most money out of a grant as possible, but his stuff is built on the cheap, from dollar-store drawer organizers and other odd bits. It all works, and it saves a ton of money that can be put into the things that make more sense to buy, like fluorescent DNA stain for visualizing the bands; we’re heartened to see that the potent carcinogen ethidium bromide that we used back in the day is no longer used for this.

We’re really intrigued with [Justin]’s bio lab buildout, and it inspires us to do the same here. This and other videos in the series, like his small incubators built on the cheap, will go a long way to helping others get into biohacking.

12 thoughts on “Simple, Low-Cost Rig Lets the Budding Biohacker Run DNA Gels

    1. You need to establish a voltage potential across the gel. Electrophoresis is the electric version of chromotography. Instead of traveling with a solvent like grade school ink chromotography on a coffee filter, the ions separate by charge. Higher charge small molecules move faster than lower charge or large molecules. However you can accomplish that, it will work.

  1. Perhaps a more learned sage can chime in. Wondering with “basement bio hacking”, what is the potential for someone to bring about the often invoked scenario of a “zombie apocalypse” ? Since we’re not talking about hardware, but actual living organisms, and the potential for unleashing some yet unpredicted mutation into the wild.

    1. Far less than giving antibiotics to feedstock to “prevent disease” and circumvent the interdiction of hormones (some antibiotics have similar effects to growth hormones), which results in super-resistant bacteria. The manure ends up in fields, and the genes responsible for antibiotic resistance spread in the ecosystem. The same way, humans being treated with antibiotics eliminate the molecules with urine and feces, that end up in the sewer, and in the ecosystem.

      So now you can find multi-resistant bacteria almost everywhere in the wild, even very far from humans and feedstock.

      Even more alarming, bacteria can quickly exchange genes for antibiotics resistance even *between species* when they co-live in a biofilm (like for example in the sewer pipes, or even your kitchen sink)

      And finally, “zombie apocalypse” happened for example with rabbits in Australia and many many other situations.

      So, the hacker doing stuff in his lab is not too much a concern, except maybe if he is unfreezing bodies that died from smallpox and are since buried in the permafrost in Canada. But it would be very dangerous for the hacker itself, and anyway with climate warming, it´s just a question of time before a smallpox reappearance.

    2. I’m far from a sage but IMO it’s hard to do on accident. A minor anthrax or MRSA outbreak are more likely than some continent wide plague. There simply aren’t that many virii that spread fast, kill, and are easy to handle. At worst you’ll give antibiotic resistance to some bug and kill yourself and some acquaintes from dodgy sanitation techniques.
      Most of what is going on at the hobbyist and undergrad level is transferring genes between species or genus. Making a yeast that glows in the dark or again, transferring resistance of antibiotics or chemical conditions. Transferring genes is the easy part, identifying the gene or plasmid that does what you want is hard.

  2. I stay off the safety bandwagon most of the time. Electrophoresis power supplies are among the most dangerous bits of lab equipment. If you run across a nice one on the surplus market, use extra caution to prevent shock. Most are constant power supplies. This means the supply will increase voltage as needed to keep the power constant. In other words, it is an electrocution machine that will do whatever it can to insure you expire. Maybe check out the pieces typically used to keep hands away from banana plugs or whatever connections, and safety switches if the top is opened. As safety switch should cause the PSU to shut down and short its output, not just interrupt the circuit. Word to the wise.

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