6 Ways to Maximize the Lifetime of Your Reagents
Reagents are expensive and are a significant cost to your lab. You know what to do to keep others from stealing your reagents. But contamination, improper storage and “lost” batches will all eat into your stock of reagents, bump up your consumables costs and waste your precious time. Unless you take steps to prevent them, that is.
Here are some ideas on how to help make your reagents last longer than ever before:
1. Make an inventory of your reagents. Name, open date, expiry date, quantity, storage location. Even the most simple list helps everyone recall what stock is on hand. That way your lab can avoid wasting money on reordering something frightfully expensive when the inventory shows that it already exists in the lab. Somewhere. Probably in my drawer (sorry)…I’ll put it back on the shelf.
2. Aliquot reagents upon delivery. If there’s only one thing to do, this is it! There is always a risk of contamination when drawing from primary containers; all it takes is one absent-minded dip of a used pipette tip to spoil a freshly opened bottle. Pre-measured aliquots are a great approach to eliminating source contamination whether or not the reagent will be shared amongst others. Aliquots also help to keep reagents stable longer because individual tubes will travel through temperature effects of freezing and melting once, maybe twice. And that’s it.
3. What comes out of the bottle, stays out of the bottle. When measuring out a chemical, you realise you have taken out a little too much in your pipette/cylinder/spatula. To prevent wasting it, you put it back into the container, right? Wrong! There is always a risk of contamination after you have removed it from the container and if you put it back in, you risk transferring the contamination back in there and ruining the whole batch. So make a hard and fast rule for yourself: if you take more out that you need, discard it. Let’s call it the angel’s share.
4. Share an aliquot, not a bottle. Collaboration helps advance everyone’s research, but think about measuring out a volume to give away when a new neighbor comes knocking to borrow a cup of sugar. The principle behind this is that the lab is your home and they are a welcomed guest. Unless you’re willing to train them to your lab’s standards and supervise, there is little sense in allowing free reign where anyone can help themselves. Sharing the secrets about where the best reagents are stored may indirectly contribute to their occasional disappearance. Hmmm…
5. Cover with foil. Protect light sensitive chemicals by wrapping bottles and tubes in an opaque material like aluminum foil. While it may not always be essential for items stored in your own lab refrigerator, do remember what’s stored under bright fluorescent lights in the shared, high-traffic walk-in refrigerator.
6. Use powder. Liquid reagents, liquid gold. Bottles can sit abandoned for weeks, growing their own science experiment inside, precipitating out or evaporating. Some even outlast the researchers themselves! Consider a switch to powdered reagents and mix up just the right amount when you need it to save money and the hassle of replacing old stock. Try your hand at quality control with this simple batch method by Nick Oswald if you make the switch and do let us know how well it works for you.
That’s six things our lab does to prolong the life of various reagents. What does your lab do?
Collaboration helps advance everyone’s research, but think about measuring out a volume to give away when a new neighbor comes knocking to borrow a cup of sugar. The principle behind this is that the lab is your home and they are a welcomed guest. Unless you’re willing to train them to your lab’s standards and supervise, there is little sense in giving them free reign to where they can always help themselves. Giving away the secrets to where the best reagents are stored may also indirectly contribute to the occasional disappearance of your reagents. Hmmm…
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7. Do not use frost-free coolers. Their temperature fluctuates, and not many reagents tolerate frequent freeze-thaw cycles.
8. Always read the storage instructions on the bottle, and keep them! I have seen a lab, where they froze every single antibody to -20 C, and were wondering why their protocol did not work.