Re: Closet biologists story

From: Robert J. Bradbury (
Date: Wed Jan 23 2002 - 05:00:52 MST

On 23 Jan 2002, Alejandro Dubrovsky wrote:

> Yes, but at least from what the prac tutor said, and that's the extent
> of my enquiry, there was no price advantage in this. i suppose i should
> investigate further. (so how much should pouring your own cost?)

The discount depends largely on the quantity you buy the raw materials in.
Agar and polyacrylimide are just expensive reagents as far as I could tell
over the few years I was paying for them in fairly large quantities. You
also have to deal with your anticipated reagent consumption rate as some
of the materials have limited shelf lives.

> i suppose that when you become proficient, this might be the case, but
> when half of your experiments go like "oh shit, that was meant to be 50
> microlitres, not 100", it gets more expensive (i suppose incompetence is
> always expensive, it just takes a while to get rid of the "in" bit.
> finishing the degree might help)

Measure twice, cut once dude! :-)

Seriously though, there are a number of ways to lower costs. One is
to make friends with a scientist in Russia or China. You can probably
get the reagents made by firms within those countries sent to them, then
reshiped to you and pay significantly less. Quality does become a
concern however (though the problems present in the mid-'90s have
probably improved significantly). I think at one time some 20-30%
of the enzymes being sold by NEB were actually manufactured in Russia.

There are some hefty costs you are missing when you attempt to scale
from a simple microbiology lab to a molecular biology lab.
a) Water purification: $3000-5000
b) -80 deg freezer: $3000-5000
c) Sterilizer: $1000-$15000
d) Incubator: $2000-$5000
e) Centrifuge(s): $1000-$7000
f) PCR apparatus: $2000-$4000
f) Microscope: $400+
g) Hood: $3000+

Of course the high end prices are for more serious work. But I'd
guess for serious molecular biology work the minimum entry costs
are probably $30-40K. It would be interesting to see what the
lowest costs would be and how you might make compromises. A google on
"high school molecular biology lab" might turn up some interesting ideas.

The unfortunate part of this is that although I think things like
lab-on-a-chip could decrease your operating scale and therefore lower
experimental costs, I don't really see trends that will decrease
the minimum entry costs anytime soon.

I just checked and tucked away in the back of my refrigerator is
a rack of tubes from the organisms I was working with 10-11 years
ago. I don't know how good they are though since I lost the
compressor for a month at one point. But you never know,
microorganisms are pretty hardy. Of course, the problem with
being a "closet microbiologist" is the inevitable question
that comes up on your 2nd or 3rd date when the woman opens
your refrigerator and says "What are those????" in a squeaky
tone of voice. I suppose I should put a piece of paper
on them with a skull & crossbones and big letters "Don't Touch!"
just to make it more interesting.


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