Wired essay about at-home assays:
The era of garage biology is upon us. Want to participate? Take a moment to buy yourself a molecular biology lab on eBay. A mere $1,000 will get you a setof precision pipettors for handling liquids and an electrophoresis rig for analyzing DNA. Side trips to sites like BestUse and LabX (two of my favorites) may be required to round out your purchases with graduated cylinders or a PCR thermocycler for amplifying DNA. If you can’t afford a particular gizmo, just wait six months – the supply of used laboratory gear only gets better with time. Links to sought-after reagents and protocols can be found at DNAHack. And, of course, Google is no end of help.
Still, don’t expect to cure cancer right away, surprise your loved ones with a stylish new feather goatee, or crank out a devilish frankenbug. (Instant bioterrorism is likely beyond your reach, too.) The goodies you buy online require practice to use properly. The necessary skills may be acquired through trial and error, studying online curricula, or taking a lab course at a community college. Although there are cookbook recipes for procedures to purify DNA or insert it into a bacterium, bench biology is not easy; the many molecular manipulations required to play with genes demand real skills.
Science, after all, involves doing things no one has done before, and it most often requires developing new art. But art can be learned, and, more important, this kind of art can be taught to robots. They excel at repetitive tasks requiring consistent precision, and an online search will uncover a wide variety of lab automation tools for sale. For a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, you can purchase boxy-looking robots with spindly arms that handle platefuls of samples, mix and distribute reagents – and make a fine martini. Some of the units are sophisticated enough that you can teach them all the new tricks published in fancy journals. Just make sure you have plenty of electrical outlets.