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A Home Lab for $500 (Plus S+H)

Over in Medical Laboratory Observer, iCubate's John Brunstein chronicles his quest to set up a $500 molecular biology lab — reagents, consumables, and shipping costs not included. As part of the challenge he set for himself, Brunstein sought to source tools and equipment that required few to no modifications, such that a non-expert could use them out of the box. "My primary (in fact, in the end, only) resource for obtaining equipment was eBay, although I did consider and look at other potential sources," he says. In a three-week period, Brunstein purchased a $95 PCR machine (plus $45.76 for shipping), $62 pipettors ($21), a $129.99 transilluminator ($6.99), a $111 centrifuge ($40.48), a $5.79 scale, a $7.88 pH meter ($9.16), a $39.21 electrophoresis PS ($8.95), and a $2.25 125 milliliter Erlenmeyer flask, all used, and all listed on eBay. He also constructed his own "serviceable and professional looking gel box, set of casting trays, and one comb" using "some dollar store plastic food containers, a hobby knife, a tube of silicone cement, two stainless steel bolts with nuts, and a short length of fine stainless steel wire," he says.

All told, Brunstein spent $453.12 on equipment and $137.75 on shipping costs, totaling $590.87. He estimates a market price of $7119.20 for his DIY molecular biology lab. "With regard to whether purchasing such equipment off eBay is reliable, in general, it was in this project," Brunstein says.

Brunstein says his work highlights "the potential to cheaply bring the power of molecular biology into anyone's hands for educational purposes," though he cautions that this exercise "should serve as a reminder to those of us professionally involved in the field that we owe society a responsibility to educate and inform as to the ethical uses, applications, and shortcomings of molecular techniques. When anyone can build a PCR lab for $500, it's past time to start educating the general population on such matters."

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