Costs of making it from Scratch? (Kit inflation)

Jim Graham graham at biodec.wustl.edu_nospammmmmmm
Thu Apr 30 05:00:55 EST 1998

Alexander writes:

> I may have been spoiled but I have not made these solutions in 10 years.
> I also have used FMC pre-poured agarose gels for the last 3 years. I know
> how much time this saves me but would it save my lab money? Has anyone
> done a cost/benefit analysis on this problem? These gels are always ready
> to go and are consistent.

Is this what is known as "trolling"?  :)

See, I told y'all that this would happen back in the early 90s. :)
Today's scientist can scarcely recall how to make gel running buffer.
(Imagine those younger than the Alexanders.)

On a more serious note, the reduction of research to buying expensive
prepackaged reagents and then mixing them together would seem to have
had a serious impact on the cost of doing research. Indeed, once
everyone is using 
various proprietary materials of which they are allowed only a dim
understanding, very little progress will be made in the area that is the 
subject for this forum. 

Case in point. I did nice work (1989-94) in a lab that churns out at
least two top quality publication a year from the NIH supported work of
3 to 4 graduate students (no techs, no postdocs). We bascially ran on a
budget of around 
<$200,000/yr, and no one was left without what they needed. Not a single
kit was purchased beyond USB Sequenase, which was remixed after the
first purchase. (A maximum quality miniprep ala Morell's BRL FOCUS or
Lee and Rasheed is practically free with a standard set of lab
chmicals). Money went to enzymes and oligos bascially. We read the
technical articles and refined what we needed considerably.

Nowadays I have practically an unlimited supply budget which I never
throw away on things like pre-poured gels. Sadly, the emphasis on DNA
techniques has strongly shifted to a variety of expensive ($2/ez)
silica-based propreitary binding columns and other unkown reagent sets.
The "installed base" has luckily continued to develope new approaches
based on traditional widely available inexpensive reagents, but I wonder
how long it will continue. When I need to apply these popular columns,
which I do have on hand, I am often left with guessing at their
suitability, and without any means of adjusting the relevant technique
for the specific application. If I call Technical Support, I basically
spend 20 minutes teaching the general principles behind the technology.
(Companies like Dupont, S&S, Micron claim they don't even know the
minimum size DNA their membranes will bind!)

How much more will it cost to do research when the tools of the trade
are turned over to profit-motivated firms who figure that an ice bucket
should cost $50 if the US government is buying? How much harder does it
push the competetively-funded basic research field when primary research
articles describe complex nucleic acid techniques as "as described by
the manufacturer". (Anyone interested in starting a "dirt-cheap" brand
based on all non-proprietary reagents?)

All I ask for, is a filled tip box and a page of techniques I can try
myself with things on hand. :)

Carry on,

J. Graham PhD
Biology Department

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