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I’m doing a bit of research for book chapter, and one of the things I was looking into, was how much exactly would it take for a layman to set up a functional molecular biology lab. With respect to this query, there are a few things to keep in mind:

1. Most molecular biology research is driven by the use of plastic ware, and various biological reagents. These are the sorts of things that need to bought fresh or brand new. Fortunately, most of it is also quite affordable from a layman point of view, and as previously demonstrated, you can easily purchase this stuff if you happen to have a credit card.

2. There are a number of pieces of equipment that require routine use. Although some, like a weigh balance and fridge are pretty cheap to buy new, most other types of equipment would begin to seriously add up. This arguably makes the endeavor of setting up a lab simply out of reach for layman sensibilities. For example, the sort of stuff you’ll probably need include.

Microcentrifuge – about $1500+
Pippetors – various volumes (new would cost about $300+ each)
Gel Box – about $500+
Powerpack – about $500+
Heating apparatus (dry heat) – about $600+
Incubator (ambient and up for e.coli work) – depending on size, at least $2000+
Transilluminator – about $700+
PCR machine – at least $2000 for a crappy one. Most reliable brands start at around $4000+

Unless, of course, you use eBay to do your shopping…

Now note that these are eBay results for today, does not include shipping fees, and as well, I tried to get the cheapest available that still looked functional and comparible to equipment used in a proper lab set-up (i.e. I know you can MacGyver certain things to work if you buy something that is considerably cheaper, but I decided to go with equipment that best mimicked what you would actually use)

Microcentrifuge: ($45.99)

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Pipettors: p100, p1000, p10000 range: ($100.00 just realized this one hasn’t finished bidding, lets assume we end at about $100)

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and one in the p10 range ($39.99)

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Agarose gel box: ($99.99)

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Powerpack: ($38.50)

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Dry heater: ($49.99)

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Convection incubator: ($129.99)

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UV Translluminator: ($299.95)

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PCR thermal cycler: ($149.99)

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Whoa – that adds up to $954.39 (this even includes the translluminator which happened to be the cheapest one I could find but still pretty expensive)!

Anyway, less than $1000, which is a little frightening actually.

Comments

  1. #1 Alex
    April 9, 2009

    A clone army built on a budget is better than no clone army at all.

  2. #2 Chris
    April 9, 2009

    That PCR machine from Perkin Elmer is actually a really good deal. Hmmm… I may buy it myself to set up my home molecular biology lab. (mu-ha-ha!)

  3. #3 Kevin
    April 9, 2009

    If anyone is seriously interested in doing this, I have all of the equipment needed, including a 36” hood in like-new condition.

    Send me an email: kfischer &@ gmail *& com

  4. #4 Andrew
    April 9, 2009

    The funny part is I actually bought a bunch of this stuff off of Ebay for my lab already… on my startup… obviously it’s of mixed quality. Like one of the dry blocks I bought ($35) doesn’t hold temperature very well. But the MJR machine I scored ($300) kicks butt!

  5. #5 David Lee
    April 9, 2009

    Hey, a FBI informant will deliver to your door. Maybe even set it up if you look like a good prospect.

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    April 10, 2009

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  7. #7 Toaster
    April 10, 2009

    American Science and Surplus regularly has some great deals on glassware and other basic stuff.

    I remain convinced that a water jacketed incubator could be easily made with a styrofoam cooler and Tupperware, you’d just need an aquarium water recirculator and a heating element.

  8. #8 Tito Jankowski
    April 10, 2009

    For those of you setting up your own home labs — check out the DIYbio group (~700 members worldwide):

    http://www.diybio.org

    Email group:
    http://groups.google.com/group/diybio

    Tito

  9. #9 Ntropi
    April 10, 2009

    I bought a lot of sci equip at eBay for my classroom and learned that just because they say something will turn on when you plug it in, that does not mean it will work. Be very careful b/c my lessons were a bit expensive. I may have to list some of what I bought b/c I can’t figure out what to do with the parts. -I’d list it as parts, not as something that when you plug it in the light goes on but I’m too stupid to know how to actually use the equipment. Naive I was…
    BTW, if you can get a thermal cycler with a heated lid, you will be able to do the rxns much easier. With the thermal cycler pictured, you will need to use parafin oil to cover your samples. I think the Finn pipettes don’t cost much more than that when bought new and for the most part, they stink b/c they can break easily. The VWR ones, however, are a great deal b/c I think you can fix them. A normal person may be able to fix Finns, but I have not figured out how to yet which is why I use Gilson in my classroom. (I work in the SF Bay Area and donations happen.)
    Awesome post, though. I’m jealous that I did not get such great deals when I was shopping months ago. I do have a m/fuge that is really good, but I can’t find a power cord for it- it is not a normal one. Maybe my ebay search for that particular power cord will turn up one someday…

  10. #10 TFox
    April 10, 2009

    I’m working on acquiring equipment at the moment. It’s a great time to ebay, lots of companies are getting shut down, and the liquidators need to clear equipment through. For us Canadians, shipping and brokerage typically at least as much as the items themselves. So far I’ve got a microfuge (“spins up”, said the seller, who neglected to mention the awful grinding noises it made, required fixing, $160 bid, ~250 delivered), PCR thermal cycler ($100 bid, $300 delivered, seems to work fine), gel box (like new, $35, liquidation through diybio), Gilson pipetter set (lightly used, ~100, diybio again), and a tired 30-yr old phase contrast microscope I overpaid for (maybe $300) a few years ago. I also have a electrophoresis power supply en route (~200+SH for a 1000V), and a microgram scale ($24 new, dealextreme.com). An incubator seems like a feasible diy project. Still, there’s no avoiding that it’s an expensive hobby, kind of like owning a boat.

  11. #11 Overgauss
    April 11, 2009

    I’m trying to study the affects of the Casimir effects on bacterial/viral machines and protein conformation, can ebay help me with that?

  12. #12 Sasha
    April 12, 2009

    Great post! I was originally inspired to study science by the work or scientists who made great discoveries with little resources, often in their home lab or in the field. Their main focus was to learn something new, not to publish another paper, or to get a grant. I think some sense of significance and wonder is lost when working in an academic lab where science is becoming little more than a business and integrity of data is sometimes sacrificed in order to increase the frequency and number of publications.

  13. #13 Peter Kluge
    April 14, 2009

    need a LightCycler 2.0 or a LightCycler 480.
    Anybody who has good offers?
    Peter

  14. #14 Mircea
    April 3, 2010

    Hey! Summer is coming and I`m going to be kicked out from the University. I`m a final year biology student from Romania and I don`t have money to pay my school tax. Please help. http://schooltaxsos.wordpress.com/

  15. #15 madhab lamsal
    January 9, 2011

    I am loking forward to set up a Molecular biology in Nepal. could anyone suggest of any donor groups as we have difficulty in financial support.

  16. #16 Ralph Dtex
    USA
    August 29, 2012

    This is cute and nice. I’ve used equipment off of Ebay, but being frugal upfront is not necessarily the best for a molecular biology lab, where the reagents cost a buttload. Yes, the is an official mobio term, my mobio TA back at UCSD used it. So the PE thermocycler uses 0.5 ml tubes, so more reagents.

  17. #17 Belachew
    Ethiopia
    October 8, 2012

    I want to have current price list for chemicals/reagents used in plant tissue culture and AFLP & RAPD marker laboratory work.plse if you have the information sent it to me,I am in need of it.
    Thank you!

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  19. #19 Vikram Dey
    India
    November 19, 2013

    Hey Hi Scientific Community.
    I want to open a private lab on low budget on my own as I don’t have any investor right now. Can anyone suggest me where I can get good products/instruments in reasonable price.
    And If anyone like to collaborate can also contact.