Anyone who’s seen the film Jurassic Park will understand the basic premise of DNA replication. In theory, this process involves taking a fragment of a creature’s DNA, and multiplying it into a sufficiently large quantity for cloning to take place. Now, science fiction has become science fact, following the UK launch of a machine that allows amateur biologists to take part in DNA experimentation for a fraction of the normal price.
Costing less than £600, and taking only a couple of hours to assemble, the Open PCR is a tenth the price of similar lab-grade Polymerase Chain Reaction machines. It works by combining a miniscule quantity of DNA with a commonly-available enzyme, resulting in far larger quantities of DNA being produced. The prospect of garage biology may seem far-fetched, but it is hoped that this budget machine will enable enthusiasts, students and cash-strapped researchers to experiment in areas like bio-fuels and disease gene sequencing. That in turn could potentially expand our knowledge of DNA and how it can be managed, since research in this evolving area has hitherto been conducted by a limited pool of professional scientists and well-funded academics.
The technology behind the Open PCR machine dates back to 1983, and it has already been used for detecting and diagnosing hereditary or infectious diseases, as well as identifying genetic fingerprints, and DNA cloning for sequencing. The Open PCR itself is the brainchild of a Californian company called Second Path, and it was developed using initial Kickstarter funding of just $12,000. The machine’s co-creator Josh Perfetto claims it transforms DNA testing into a DIY activity, adding: “Open PCR brings DNA detection and manipulation into the realm of open source, and reduces the cost to do so by an order of magnitude. This greatly expands access to PCR, not only to DIY enthusiasts, but also professional researchers with limited funds.”
Price: £480 plus VAT. Available from Cool Components.