Open Source PCR and electrophoresis roundup

PCR (polymerase chain reaction) and gel electrophoresis are the two building blocks of DNA analysis and they’re going open source! Here’s a quick roundup of some open source efforts that have been incubating.

While you can’t decipher genetic code directly with these technologies, DNA sequencers which pump out the actual discrete code of DNA are built on these two foundational technologies. Alone, PCR and electrophoresis can be used to do meaningful genetic and forensic analysis.


OpenPCR raised $12,000 on kickstarter to produce a $600 PCR kit made from a lasercut plywood frame with a 16 well plate and PC based controls. Open source (cad, eagle, source code available).

Coffee cup PCR is an impressive DIY project posted on Instructables that appears to be made by a student research group out of RIT, but I’m not entirely sure. Features PC controls using a proprietary heat controller.

Lighbulb PCR is a project by biohacker Russell Durrett which uses an arduino controlled lightbulb to thermocycle pcr tubes. The housing is made from PVC pipe and air is circuled with a PC fan. Open source.

Gel electrophoresis:

Cheapass gel box is a project by Joseph Elsbernd for a working gel box made for $21. The enclosure appears to be a $2 box.

Mini Gel electrophoresis system is an Instructables project posted by Joanne C. Long which describes a rather nice looking gel box design that can be built for $50-80. The enclosure is a professional looking set of laser-cut acrylic parts.

Open Gel Box 2.0 is a community effort to design an open source gel box. It culminated in kit and assembled gel box offerings from the company Pearl Biotech. Some design files are available.

Low cost DNA gel documentation is an article by Nick Oswald that describes a project to do affordable digital photography of stained gels. A comment left by Dan Rhoads reads “You don’t even need the UV transilluminator. If you’re using sybr Green or sybrSafe, you simply use blue LEDs like a bicycle lamp or a strong torchlight.”

It’s worth mentioning umbrella project OpenWetWare which is a driving force for open source community effort in biotech. If you’re looking for DIY bio stuff, that’s a good place to start. You’ll also want to check out the DIYBIO site and join the global and regional discussion groups (mailing lists).

I’ve almost certainly missed any number of promising DIY projects, so please send them along if you’re aware of any. Happy biohacking!

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