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Kits vs. individual reagents

By: Roche Life Science

Posted: May 23, 2015 | Lab Life

 

To kit or not to kit? Chances are, if you have not yet faced this dilemma, you soon will. We live in a commercialized scientific community, designed to facilitate productivity, reproducibility and efficiency of lab workflow. To no longer waste precious time making a series of complex solutions, to then follow a vague, hand-written protocol written by a former post-doc after her eighth cup of coffee, complete with what can only be SDS salt crusted to the corner with a smudge of Coomassie blue fingerprint. We now have the option of ready-to-order solutions, including a detailed protocol and troubleshooting strategies. What else do we need to know?

Individual reagents, it's not just about pride  
There remain the legendary white-haired investigators reminiscing about the days when grad students spent their entire dissertation cloning a single gene, who believe gloves are a sign of weakness, reminding you, "There was no kit in my day!" While the rationale of 'that's how I trained, so that's how you train' is somewhat antiquated, there are some distinct advantages to rolling up your overly-sized lab coat sleeves and getting your gloved hands dirty to do the unthinkable - going kitless.

Whether you are simply preparing solutions from an established protocol or combing through methods sections of papers to assemble your own, the process of careful calculation and thoughtful assembly of reagents is part of your scientific education. It is important to know how much detergent your wash buffer has, the pH of your binding solutions or what type of alcohol is eluting your DNA. The nature of kits has transformed the language of protocols into 'solution 1, solution 2 or elution buffer'. And while undoubtedly easier to follow, it is essential to understand the key function of your kits' components.

Trouble? Know your solutions
So, your experiment isn't working. Once you've stopped ranting silent expletives to yourself and questioning your decision to ever pursue science in the first place, you start troubleshooting. You retrace your steps, then check your math. Did you use 1.0 mL or 0.1 mL of the 10 mM Tris-HCl stock solution? Did you find out the EDTA you borrowed from the lab next door actually pre-dates your third-grade graduation? The process of preparing your own solutions means you must be careful and diligent. This allows you to look beyond prepared reagents when experiments fail. To remember that protocols are templates that, at times, require optimization. Therefore, understanding the function of each step and the components of your solutions is key.

Sometimes, it really is all about the Benjamins
Even science operates within a budget, and we need to be conscientious of our experimental costs to optimally design experiments and maximize scientific discoveries. There are times when a kit may be faster, easier, and everything you wished and more. But a simple cost breakdown might reveal that making the solutions yourself and purchasing necessary individual components saves money in the end. Conversely, there are times when the cost of purchasing individual kit components may exceed the kit itself, in combination with the time and energy to assemble. 

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