LEGO electrophoresis box and gel cast (prototype)

Completed casted gel

(visit the photo gallery for more pictures)

Gel boxes are ridiculously expensive, so much so that  I was able to buy a used electrophoresis machine off eBay for less than the cost of a gel box!
My first attempts in building a gel box involved scoring and sawing 1/4″ plastic boards in an attempt to cut square pieces for a gel box.  This method was too crude and I could not get a straight  line.  The only positive thing from this attempt was I found that PVC cement was able to join plastic pieces together to make a strong water-tight seal.
While brainstorming I reckoned  that LEGO’s would be perfect for a gel box.  After googling for a bit I found only one reference to LEGO’s and electrophoresis and it was at the journal of BioTechniques (link here).  It was frustrating to discovery that no digital copy of the article exists and so I decided I would fumble around in the dark on my own.

Casting a gel with LEGOs

The image above shows my prototype gel box and gel mold (with molten agarose).  The box itself is just a frame.  The gel mold is square so that the mold can be rotated once the agarose cools to make for easy gel casting.  The bottom of the mold is covered in those smooth LEGO planks without rivits (I suspect it may have worked even with the rivits, but the acetone treatment would be more difficult).

One of the big design challenges with using LEGO’s is waterproofing the construct.  LEGO’s are made from ABS plastic and from all of the reading about 3D printers I have done, I knew that acetone melts and melds ABS plastic together.  After constructing my gel mold I dipped a Kim-Wipe (lint free paper towel) into some acetone and rubbed it all over the sides and surfaces of the LEGO mold.  Immediately the colors began to smear and the cracks and grooves filled in.  Within minutes the whole thing was dry and ready for casting a gel.
Nearly all of the agarose stayed inside the mold (I added 40mL of 2% agarose) and the mold and gel both were removed and rotated nicely!
I ran into one issue.  The acetone was not completely dry and it seeped up from the base plate of LEGO’s and made a weird tiny plastic ridge (which I later removed with more acetone).  I only gave the LEGO’s about 5 minutes to dry so I am not surprised.  But what was surprising was the patriotic shape theplastic made in my gel!

Flag? Gel?

I am definitely going to pursue the LEGO gel box further and will post more if I have success.

 

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