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Proteomics (by the Seat of Your Pants)


With funding agencies’ budgets all but frozen, it’s tougher than ever to track down lab-sustaining grants. What’s a poor scientist to do? Set up a lab at home, of course. Here, GT builds a proteomics lab on a budget, using common household items. Hey, it’s not perfect — but you need some way to generate that preliminary data. Warning: not for the faint of heart.

Much thanks to Paul Doherty, whose website on building your own spectrometer inspired this page. Check it out at


Protein tagging

Who needs real GFP when you can use green fluorescent soda? For more color options, experiment with other radioactive-looking materials from the grocery store, such as Pepto-Bismol.


Protein separation

Your kids can make this for you: it’s as simple as replacing that traditional 2D gel with a batch of Jell-O. Once the Jell-O has set, load your proteins. Separate first by leaving the gel on top of a washing machine during the spin cycle. For the second phase, use an old AC adapter, snip off the appliance end, and split the two wires — one should go in the top of the gel and one in the bottom. Voila!


Protein chip

This technology hasn’t reached most labs yet, so here’s your opportunity to get in on the ground floor. Use any old glass slide, and be creative about your protein source. Not everyone has access to highly purified samples. For a chip that’s truly cheap, try studying the “salivome.”



You all remember that science lesson where you made a magnet by wrapping wire around a nail and attaching it to a small battery. Use the same principle to build your own NMR. To ramp it up, try a bundle of individually wrapped nails (we used 10 six-inch nails) and connect it to your car battery. Don’t forget to remove any metallic piercings ahead of time and leave your keys in another room.



Forget the hundreds of thousands of dollars you spent on mass specs for your real lab. At home, you can build one for less than $10. Using a cardboard mailing tube (if you don’t have one, we recommend stealing one from your neighbors while they’re away), cut a small opening in one cap, and a slightly larger opening on the top near the back of the tube. Make a cut at a 45-degree angle behind the larger opening and insert an old CD. To use it, aim the cap end at a fluorescent light and peer through the hole near the CD to see the spectra reflected on the disc.

To catch up with the high-end labs, you’ll want to make four of these and fasten them together with twine. Instant quadrupole mass spec!



The Scan

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