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DIY in the Lab

The Handy Guide to Lab DIY for Researchers

Most scientists rely on research grants to fund their research, and not every lab has a healthy budget to splash out on fancy new equipment. And let’s face it, in today’s climate of research grant cuts, even well-funded labs are looking for ways to be more efficient with their grant money.

We’re here to help you with our Lab DIY for researchers Hub—providing low-cost tips, tricks, and hacks for getting your experiments done on a shoestring.

That’s right folks, as intimidating as it may sound, with our help you can make your own reagents, and build your own lab apparatus using tools and equipment you can easily get hold of without breaking the bank. You probably already have most of the tools that you need right in your lab or at home!

From calibrating your own pipettes, building your own PCR machine, to making your own Taq polymerase or competent cells. If you’re looking for ways to save in the lab, you’ve come to the right place!

Your Handy Guide to Low Cost Lab DIY
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    DIY Molecular Biology Methods

    Get low-cost DNA isolation, competent cells, and transformations

    If you buy competent E.coli regularly, you’ll know that they are pretty expensive. Making your own, good quality competent E.coli is very easy—one morning’s work (with a bit of pre-planning) is all it takes.

    We’ve curated a list of easy-to-follow DIY tips and tricks for navigating some of the most common molecular biology protocols, to help you save money and get your experiments done.

    A sign with DIY on it to depict making DIY chemically competent cells

    How to Make Your Own Chemically Competent Cells

    We’ll show you how to make a DIY stock of chemically competent E.coli, the workhorse in the molecular biology laboratory.

    An image of neon signs to depict a menagerie of miniprep methods.

    A Menagerie of Miniprep Methods

    There’s more than one way to do a plasmid miniprep. Here are 5 to add to your molecular biology arsenal.

    Women holding a broken electricity cable looking like she's been electrocuted to represent the competency of electrocompetent E. coli

    DIY Electrocompetent E. coli

    Making good quality electrocompetent E. coli is very easy. One morning’s work (with a bit of work ahead of time) is all it takes.

    An image of different sized leaves to depict kit-free midiprep.

    How to Do a Kit-free Midiprep

    Here, we share a protocol for a midiprep, which, if not faster, gives a larger plasmid DNA yield than any commercial midiprep kit.

    Beer in glasses to depict DIY phase separating gel

    DIY Phase Separating Gel: Clean and Cheap!

    Learn from my adventures, save yourself some money and enjoy the nice phase separations. Follow this simple protocol for making a clean and cheap DIY phase separating gel.

    DIY method for isolating yeast

    A DIY Method for Isolating Yeast Genomic DNA

    Look Ma, No Kit! Unlike with kits, there are no propriety reagents in a DIY protocol. You know what exactly is in each reagent. The DIY approach is catching on!

    An graphic of expanding circles to depict a method for cheaper bacterial transformation.

    Blast your way to quicker, cheaper bacterial transformations

    If you want a more efficient, cheaper way to do bacterial transformation, you are definitely going to like this article.

    Lab DIY

    DIY Centrifugation-Based Purification of cfDNA

    We’ve created an alternative, centrifugation-based method for the purification of cell-free DNA (cfDNA) that utilizes a benchtop clinical centrifuge.

    (Almost) Free PCR!

    Performing PCR on a shoestring

    Bet you’ve never considered making your own PCR machine, or Taq polymerase? We’ll show you how you can. And we’ve also got a selection of handy tips—from primer design to dealing with contamination—to help you get the best from your PCR reactions and master a range of PCR techniques.

    An image of cells to depict free PCR

    Free PCR for 5 Years (or How to Make your Own Taq and Pfu Polymerase)

    Labs across the world spend a great deal of money on Taq polymerase. Find out how to save your lab some money.

    Lab DIY

    Clean Up Your Act! How To Clean Up PCR Contamination

    The biggest source of PCR contamination is aerosolized PCR products. How do you fix PCR contamination and avoid it in the future?

    A cartoon of a man sitting at a computer to depict searching for the Top 10 PCR websites.

    Top 10 websites to help you with your PCR experiments

    When you’re trying to solve a PCR problem, you’ll probably resort to a Google search at some point or another. Here’s a list of the Top 10 go-to websites to help solve your PCR problem.

    Homemade PCR Test for Mycoplasma Contamination

    Homemade PCR Test for Mycoplasma Contamination

    Mycoplasma is one of the biggest threats to cell culture. It’s quite easy to test cell cultures for the presence of mycoplasma using PCR, and we’ve got a simple protocol for routine testing.

    Lab DIY

    PCR on a shoestring: Build Your Own PCR Machine

    You can build your own PCR machine using tools and equipment you can get easily and without breaking the bank. Well, what are you waiting for?

    Lab DIY

    Amplify Your PCR Success with the Right PCR Instrument!

    Here is a rundown of our top features to look out for when you are shopping for a new PCR instrument.

    Homemade Lab Equipment

    Simple and effective ideas for building your own lab equipment

    From building a homemade shaking incubator fashioned out of an old-time record player to a step-by-step guide for building your own microscope using your smartphone, we’ve put together a shortlist of low-tech lab gadgets that you can easily make at home or in the lab, or in your garage lab.

    Image of a homemade digital microscope - the end product if you follow our instructions to build your own microscope

    Turn a Smartphone into a Digital Microscope for Only 3 Cents

    Want to build your own microscope for almost nothing? You probably already have most of the tools that you need right in your lab or at home! Here’s how.

    SDS gel

    The Practical Guide to Running a Perfect Homemade SDS-PAGE Gel

    As biochemists, we routinely run SDS-PAGE to analyze our proteins. Imagine the time and effort you are going to save when you can run every gel to perfection.

    Homemade PCR Test for Mycoplasma Contamination

    Homemade PCR Test for Mycoplasma Contamination

    Mycoplasma is one of the biggest threats to cell culture. It’s quite easy to test cell cultures for the presence of mycoplasma using PCR, and we’ve got a simple protocol for routine testing.

    An image of spinning plates to depict how to build a plate centrifuge.

    How to Build a Plate Centrifuge for $25

    Find out how to build a plate centrifuge using a salad spinner. Gathering the components is as complicated as it gets!

    An image of a record player to depict lab gadgets and solutions.

    Low-Tech lab gadgets and solutions: My All Time Favs

    Looking for cheaper or faster solutions in the lab? Here’s our top 10 list of ways to use everyday items to make gadgets and for low-tech solutions for the lab.

    An image of an aperture to depict DNA gel photography.

    Low cost DNA gel documentation

    Get awesome pictures of your DNA gels with a standard digital camera and an orange filter. Here’s how.

    Webinars

    Watch these informative webinars on how to improve your productivity and overall experience in the lab

    From good pipetting technique to improve the accuracy of your results—to tips and tricks that will help you get the results you want for your projects, publications, and grants. Stay on top of your research projects, and make your lab work more enjoyable and productive—and improve collaboration in the lab at the same time.

    Got a Question or a Suggestion?

    Didn't find what you were looking for? Or perhaps you have some tips and tricks that we haven't covered here? Get in touch and let us know so we can continue to improve the information we share!

    Contact us here.

    Most Recent

    Stay up to date with the most recent lab DIY articles

    An image of a calculator to depict saving money with lab hacks.

    Lab Hacks: Tips to Save You Money and Time

    Not every lab has the cash to shell out on fancy equipment. We share some trusty lab hacks and welcome you to share your own with us.

    An image of a piggy bank to depict how to triumph over minimal lab resources.

    Don’t Be Discouraged in a Lab with Minimal Resources

    Here are some tips for working in a lab that is run on a really strict budget: no kits, no technicians, no media kitchen, or glassware washing service.

    budget

    Running your Lab on a Shoestring Budget

    It is never too late to take proactive measures to protect your research budget in the event of a funding lapse.

    A sign with DIY on it to depict making DIY chemically competent cells

    How to Make Your Own Chemically Competent Cells

    We’ll show you how to make a DIY stock of chemically competent E.coli, the workhorse in the molecular biology laboratory.

    An image of ingredients to depict a method to make your own ECL

    How To Make Your Own ECL

    ECL can be an expensive reagent in a lab. Why not make your own? Hopefully, this quick, simple and cheap solution will be of help to you!

    Lab DIY

    PCR on a shoestring: Build Your Own PCR Machine

    You can build your own PCR machine using tools and equipment you can get easily and without breaking the bank. Well, what are you waiting for?

    A cartoon of a man sitting at a computer to depict searching for the Top 10 PCR websites.

    Top 10 websites to help you with your PCR experiments

    When you’re trying to solve a PCR problem, you’ll probably resort to a Google search at some point or another. Here’s a list of the Top 10 go-to websites to help solve your PCR problem.

    An image of a fun ride to depict easy ways to wreck a centrifuge.

    5 Ways to Wreck Your Centrifuge

    Here are five unfortunately easy ways to wreck a centrifuge, and how to make sure it never happens in the first place!

    Equipment Maintenance Tips

    Handy tips and tricks for equipment maintenance, and how not to wreck stuff

    Taking freshly prepared samples to an instrument only to discover that it is broken is one of the most frustrating things that can happen in the lab. Samples, reagents, time, and precious grant funding are wasted, negatively impacting everyone else in the lab, from fellow students and postdocs to frugal lab managers and your supervisor.

    Properly maintaining laboratory equipment is of the utmost importance, and ensures that your scientific results are not compromised by a lack of proper care and maintenance. Here is a selection of tips you should be aware of.

    An image of rusted railings to depict rust in your incubator.

    What To Do About Rust in Your Incubator

    Rust spots provide a good shelter for bugs, which will get there one day, and from the rust into your tissue culture. Here’s what you can do to deal with the problem as soon as you see it.

    An image of a man holding his hands up to say slow down to depict caring for your centrifuge.

    How to Keep Your Centrifuge Alive

    The more expensive your lab centrifuge, the more sensitive and the easier it is to break. What can we do to give these pricey monsters a long, successful tenure in the lab?

    An image of a collapsed ultra-tube to depict ultracentrifuge safety.

    Respect the Ultra

    Have a healthy respect for the ultra! Here are some hints and tips for using a preparative ultracentrifuge, disaster free.

    liquid handler

    Basic Care for Your Liquid Handler

    Here are some ideas to make your liquid handling robot perform at its best.

    An image of a fun ride to depict easy ways to wreck a centrifuge.

    5 Ways to Wreck Your Centrifuge

    Here are five unfortunately easy ways to wreck a centrifuge, and how to make sure it never happens in the first place!

    An image of lab furniture to depict how not to wreck your autoclave.

    10 Easy Ways to Wreck your Autoclave

    Here are our top 10 least favorite ways to ruin that larger-than-life-sized autoclave. Don’t try these—your lab manager won’t be pleased!

    An image of colors to depict care for your pH meter.

    How to Care for Your pH Meter

    In this article, we talk about how to look after your pH meter and provide tips for keeping a pH meter in good working order.

    An image of monster eyes to depicts how to clean a water bath.

    How to Clean a Water Bath (When You Can’t Avoid it Any Longer)

    Here’s a quick guide to cleaning and maintenance, to help you overcome your fears of the monsters lurking in your water bath.

    Image of balance and weights to represent calibration such as pipette calibration

    Performing Pipette Calibration Yourself

    It is necessary to check pipette calibration every few months to ensure accuracy by dispensing the right volumes. Learn how to do-it-yourself!

    Become an Eco-Aware Lab Warrior

    Save time, money, and the planet

    Were you attracted to biological research because of an interest in nature and the noble desire to make the world a better place?

    Those ideals are often stripped away when the realities and demands of research life take over—it turns out that it’s not so easy for one person to save the world. We end up working in labs that generate vast amounts of waste and consume a lot of power. Of course, much of this waste and consumption is unavoidable, but there are a lot of ways that we can reduce the environmental impact of our labs by improving our practices.

    From donating surplus equipment to recycling to ordering only the amount that you need, we’ve got a selection of ideas for reducing your lab’s environmental impact and saving money at the same time—and become a local hero and eco-warrior at the same time.

    An image of a record player to depict lab gadgets and solutions.

    Low-Tech lab gadgets and solutions: My All Time Favs

    Looking for cheaper or faster solutions in the lab? Here’s our top 10 list of ways to use everyday items to make gadgets and for low-tech solutions for the lab.

    An image of petri dishes to depicts cell culture on a budget

    Cell Culture on a Budget: Simple Homemade Fixes

    Mammalian cell culture can easily deplete grant funds. Sometimes you can alter protocols to use expensive reagents sparingly. Here are a few tips!

    Lab DIY

    How To Make Your Own ECL

    ECL can be an expensive reagent in a lab. Why not make your own? Hopefully, this quick, simple and cheap solution will be of help to you!

    Lab DIY

    How to reduce your lab’s environmental impact

    Bioscientists are generally nature-lovers at heart, but the average bio lab is incredibly wasteful. Here are some ways to reduce your lab’s environmental impact.

    Lab DIY

    15 Laboratory Items You Can Buy In Any Store

    A variety of lab supplies can be purchased off the shelf in your neighborhood, which can save you time and money. Here is a grocery list of items that you can stock your lab with today!

    An image of a calculator to depict saving money with lab hacks.

    Lab Hacks: Tips to Save You Money and Time

    Not every lab has the cash to shell out on fancy equipment. We share some trusty lab hacks and welcome you to share your own with us.

    An image of a neon hand and spanner to depict MacGyver in the lab

    You Too Can be a MacGyver in the Lab!

    Resolve lab obstacles with creative solutions with these non-lab products that can actually be very useful in the lab environment.

    Glossary

    A–Z of doing research on a budget

    Some of these terms may seem pretty obvious, but sometimes it’s a good idea to spell them out.

    Budget. Inexpensive, not costing a great deal.

    A centrifuge separates substances based on their density by using centrifugal force. Think G-force—Astronauts, fighter pilots, and Formula One drivers experience it—and so do our bugs when we pellet them.

    ‘Cheap’ - Someone who skimps on costs even when it is to the detriment of experiments.

    do-it-yourself (DIY). In this context, we mean low cost tips, tricks and handy hacks for getting your experiments done on a shoestring. And NOT the annoying ‘DIY’ your parents used to do around the house over the weekend while you were trying to catch-up on some much needed sleep.

    Eco-warrior. A person actively involved in preventing damage to the environment.

    ‘Frugal’ - Someone who is careful with money but spends if needed.

    Think 'Inspector'. A gadget is a small (ingenious or novel) mechanical or electronic tool, machine, or device that serves a useful purpose.

    A garage lab is your home away from the lab, where you would normally park your car - but which has now become your very own space for lab DIY and hacks. A bit like ‘Doc’ from Back to the Future.

    Hack. An efficient or cost-saving solution or piece of advice.

    An incubator is like a sauna for our bugs and mammalian cell cultures—but without the steam. It's a stable environment that protects cells from changes in temperature, humidity, CO2, and O2.

    PCR, or Polymerase Chain Reaction is a technique used to make numerous copies of a specific segment of DNA quickly and accurately. This means that a single DNA molecule can be replicated and turned into many copies, quickly and without any mistakes - well that’s the idea anyway.

    When a task or experiment is done ‘on a shoestring, it’s done with a very small amount of money.

    Taq polymerase is a heat-stable enzyme used in PCR to replicate DNA molecules.

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