To start, this is a $512 PCR machine (aka thermocycler). That’s roughly an order of magnitude below commercial machines. This puts it into the reach of classrooms, hobbyists, and underfunded laboratories.
Many PCR reactions are somewhat tolerant, and will proceed successfully in most cases. However, there are some “finicky” PCR reactions. Some researchers will swear by a particular machine for troublesome PCR reactions. Perhaps, since these units are so inexpensive, a lab could buy one for each researcher and then they can set it up the way they want to and never have to wait for machine scheduling in order to carry out their experiments.
About the software…
I suppose their focus was on easy-of-use. If so, mission accomplished. They programmed an Arduino to act like a USB drive. Then an Adobe Air application reads and writes to a file on the drive/Arduino in order to interface with the machine. In makes for a pretty interface, but it doesn’t allow for customized operation.
About the hardware…
Wood isn’t a great material to build laboratory appliances out of. Decontamination of wood is quite difficult, and often not practical. Plastic would work better.
But you can change these things to suit you
Whatever you want to do with it, you can. True to their name, all of the drawings, code, and schematics are freely available at: http://openpcr.org/downloads
A friend of mine does a lot of molecular biology and keeps an incubator at home so she can run a reaction and stop it some time at night without having to make a special trip into the lab. Here are some notes on cheap lab equipment if you’d like to offload some easy steps to your “branch office” at home. Or maybe just flesh out your main lab on the cheap.
Set up some automated alerts on eBay for other equipment (scientific cameras, PCR machines, scopes, etc.). I haven’t found much on craigslist, but there’s no reason to rule them out, particularly for electronics and computer equipment.
It seems like everyone is coming up with new open source PCR machines/thermocyclers. Here’s another project, this time from an outfit called Otyp. What’s unique about this iteration (besides the beautiful prototype photos in this post)? Although they’re short on details, it’s part of a broader initiative to bring better biotech education to the school system. One thing they’re doing right now is leasing traditional PCR machines to schools. Their Cloning a Fluorescent Gene kit is billed as the biotech equivalent of a “Hello World” program. Otyp is looking for funding on Kickstarter.
We continue to refine the hardware design of the LavaAmp, and it looks like we have the production hardware down to 5 or 6 components, 4 of which are injection molded plastic. The labor will only be in assembly of the final box, as all sub-assemblies should all come off automated fab lines of one kind or another. All the real cost is in the design and tooling — once we get up and running the per unit costs should be quite reasonable.
Update on OpenPCR: This similar effort is making progress as well. Their funding round was wildly successful, generating 202% of their goal!
The relatively recent expiration of several PCR patents help make these projects possible (OpenPCR writes about this). The democratization of this technology is important, as Guido from LavaAmp describes (via):
What is also needed is a cheap source of reagents and supplies for molecular biology. A PCR machine isn’t much use if you can’t afford polymerase. Molecular biology labs blow most of their budgets on consumables, not equipment. This isn’t a criticism of the LavaAmp and OpenPCR projects, which are very important. I hope they catalyze a renewed, broader effort to democratize biotech.
Thermocyclers/PCR machines are really simple, but still expensive. To offer a less expensive, do-it-yourself option, these two guys are engineering an open source alternative. In addition to being a decent PCR machine, (“16 reaction wells, a heated lid, a ramp rate of 2 C/s”) it has some nice features (Arduino-controlled, and it “can tweet or text you when it’s done”). http://openpcr.org/
They’re using Kickstarter to help organize their donation-based project. The duo explain their project in a video. link