Home made reagents

afc at gnv.ifas.ufl.edu afc at gnv.ifas.ufl.edu
Fri Oct 23 09:20:36 EST 1992

In article <1992Oct22.152932.6092 at kakwa.ucs.ualberta.ca>, cup at bones.biochem.ualberta.ca (Chris Upton) writes:
> Hello again bionetters!!
> 	Thanks again to the senders of superbroth/terrific-broth recipes!
> This message concerns something which bugs me alot, is close to my heart and also
> to everyone's WALLET. It's also related to the "to use or not to use kits" debate.
> I'd like to know how many labs make reagents for themselves or to supply their
> group/dept/university? I'm thinking of those reagents that are cheap to make with
> a little effort but expensive to buy (it's got to be cost-effective after all).
> If there's not much of this going on....  then why not? Is it because science
> is usually too competitive most of the time to waste effort on these things...
> why make something and give it to the lab down the hall when they won't give 
> something back?

<examples deleted>

> I agree, it's probably not worth making everything for oneself, but a little
> cooperation between labs in a department could save $$$$ without much expenditure of
> time or effort.

As the head of a laboratory, I tell my people to buy anything that they can
in kit form.  They always reply with arguments like this.  However, there
are two additional major costs associated with producing your own reagents 
that are not considered, IMO.

1. Time and salary.  One of my technicians bought loose pipette tips in bulk
a few years ago to save money over the preracked ones.  After all, it only
took him a few minutes to rack them.  For the next year, the lab would have
"stuffing parties" to rack up tips.  I easily spent ten times as much in
salary costs as he saved.

2. Quality control.  In this business things usually don't work perfectly
the first time.  By the time you have made up a kit four times, tested it,
and finally discovered that that bottle of tris was the wrong pH, and gotten
everything optimized...you are no longer talking about $50 and an afternoon's

In the early 80s I knew several people that were going to get rich making
restriction enzymes.  It is really pretty easy to do (I have made about
ten myself) and doesn't require that much fancy equipment.  At the rates
companies were charging it wasn't hard to whip up a few million dollars
of Pst I in your basement.  You didn't even have to worry about marketing-
Sigma, Boehringer, and others would buy your prep and resell it.
Reality set in when the resellers started asking for quality control: no
nicking, religation, and so on.  Even if you had a great prep it cost about
three times as much to do QC as to make the stuff.  And if your prep wasn't
clean you had to start over.  Nobody I know got rich.

Having worked with dirty enzyme preps (like the ten *I* made 8-) I am
willing to pay extra for ones that have been tested and shown to be clean.
I am also willing to call up technical support and throw a fit if they
don't work as advertised.  I generally get my money back, too.

There are two major exceptions: if your salary is payed by someone else
but you provide supplies then the economic argument doesn't hold up.  And
if you use something frequently and in large amounts, it can be worth
your while to make and troubleshoot it yourself.

Andrew Cockburn

> Chris
> ---
> Chris_Upton at darwin.biochem.ualberta.ca
> Biochemistry Department
> University of Alberta
> Edmonton, AB T6H 2H7
> Canada

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