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Once extracted, what you do with it is up to you...
March 8, 2012 5:57 AM   Subscribe

"Ever wish you could see the strands of genetic material that make you...you?" NOVA shows you how to extract your DNA with this do-it-yourself tutorial using household items. [via]
posted by quin (38 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Seems like you'd get a lot of bacterial DNA as well.
posted by delmoi at 6:03 AM on March 8, 2012


That is not "I am extracting my own DNA" music. That is "I built this still out of an old tractor" music.
posted by griphus at 6:06 AM on March 8, 2012 [11 favorites]


Reminds me of an old urban myth that went around school...
posted by run"monty at 6:09 AM on March 8, 2012


Ok, and then what does one do with said DNA? Make it into a necklace or something?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:11 AM on March 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Umm . . . The point being?

This is like displaying an owner's manual to a car. I mean, you can put it on the pavement, and make sure the machine's headlights illuminate the pages, but it doesn't mean the car's any wiser for the exercise.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 6:13 AM on March 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can see strands of my genetic material pretty much whenever I want.
posted by nathancaswell at 6:18 AM on March 8, 2012 [11 favorites]


Sometimes people do things just for fun, or because one can.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:18 AM on March 8, 2012 [8 favorites]


And yes, sometimes you can make it into a necklace.
posted by nathancaswell at 6:18 AM on March 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


"Ok, and then what does one do with said DNA? Make it into a necklace or something?"

You can do that. I've done proper phenol extractions of DNA for jewelry for people out of my lab before.

"Seems like you'd get a lot of bacterial DNA as well."

You wouldn't be able to tell the difference, what is going on is the DNA is precipitating in the alcohol. DNA is a really really hydrophilic molecule, and when you remove water from the system it sticks to itself instead. Even in alcohol though, DNA is still largely invisible, at least if pure, it looks kind of like the waves that come off of hot pavement in the summer. What you are seeing there is DNA bound proteins.

So bacterial DNA will clump with Human DNA just the same and still have quite a few DNA bound proteins. If you chew up the insides of your cheeks a little it will probably be more of you you that you see.

Also, all of this would work better with Everclear instead of isopropyl alcohol, and you don't really need the food coloring if you don't want it, if any of you guys have the same habits at the kinds of parties that have Everclear as I do. I break out my Aperture Science labcoat when drunk.
posted by Blasdelb at 6:25 AM on March 8, 2012 [9 favorites]


Oh man. We've got a big bottle of Everclear *and* we're having a party this weekend! I don't have a lab coat but one of our co-hosts is a nurse, so....
posted by rtha at 6:29 AM on March 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


we're having a party this weekend! I don't have a lab coat but one of our co-hosts is a nurse, so....

You know it's a good party when there's a sexy nurse and there's DNA covering everything.
posted by Think_Long at 6:45 AM on March 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


Also, one note of warning, don't let your drunken undergrad friends convince themselves that they can pellet the precipitated DNA while you're upstairs, apparently to suspend it in a lower volume of Everclear, by windmilling their arms like a centrifuge. Unlike getting the last little bit out of an Eppendorf tube, it doesn't work here and it turns out terribly when drunk. Everclear will really sting the eyes of your guests.
posted by Blasdelb at 6:57 AM on March 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ok, and then what does one do with said DNA? Make it into a necklace or something?
posted by Brandon Blatcher


Violin strings, of course.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:05 AM on March 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Umm . . . The point being?

Wonder? Illumination? Learning something that's not projected onto your eyeballs by LEDs?
posted by HumanComplex at 7:16 AM on March 8, 2012 [5 favorites]


I can do this one handed.
posted by srboisvert at 7:21 AM on March 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


learn how to extract your own DNA using just a few common household items.

Ah, the old toilet paper tube, rubber glove and vaseline technique. Well played, NOVA. Well played.
posted by R. Schlock at 7:25 AM on March 8, 2012


blasdelb -You can do that. I've done proper phenol extractions of DNA for jewelry for people out of my lab before.
How was the DNA used in the jewelry? I'm kind of terrified by what you must have had to hack off someone to get enough DNA to form a pellet big enough to be visible when dried.

Clyde Mnestra - Umm . . . The point being?
Eh, it's like the screaming jelly baby trick. It's a cool science stunt, which can be a lot of fun if you're in the right crowd. A friend of mine had a SCIENCE!-themed leaving party last year; we had screaming jelly babies, dry ice in the drinks, shots dispensed from syringes (without the needle, obviously), particle zoo cupcakes, various particle physics interactions expressed through dance, etc. It was awesome. DNA extraction would've been a nice addition and we certainly had the spirits on hand. I'm actually a bit ashamed that we didn't think of it.

More seriously, I know some DIYBio / Biohacking people that do this, followed by treatment to remove the bound proteins, to get samples of their own DNA for gene detection/typing using an old thermal cycler from eBay. This sort of thing is useful for hobbyist biology.

nathancaswell - And yes, sometimes you can make it into a necklace.
It wouldn't be too hard to make a plastic, ahem, pearl necklace. You need a lot of protein to start with, relative to what most men produce, but the polymerisation to form bioplastic is very do-able by an amateur.
posted by metaBugs at 7:32 AM on March 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'll make two arguments for the relevance of DIY science demonstrations.

The first is to challenge the impression that science is involved in something occult and weird, and is just pulling the public's leg when it comes to things like global warming, general relativity/cosmology, and evolution. Molecular genetics isn't that far removed from kitchen chemistry, biologists these days mostly have the benefit of computers and machines to automate it in bulk. You probably grew up with a particle accelerator that provided a test of special relativity in your living room as well.

And second, it's fun, which is justification enough.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:34 AM on March 8, 2012 [8 favorites]


Jesus you guys are Republicans or what? IT'S FUCKING SCIENCE! 150 years ago they didn't even KNOW about DNA! And here we are just extracting it like every day blokes!

"Sure we can smash atoms together and find out the structure of the universe, but... what the hell good is that?"
posted by symbioid at 7:50 AM on March 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


I remember doing a variant of this at the Smithsonian's American History, when there used to be a sort of children's lab in the basement. Long strands of DNA! Right there on sticks! We must have been seven or eight, and it was the CRAZIEST THING to have all of that RIGHT INSIDE OF US, so are you kidding with these "point being" comments? It's one thing to know that we evolved, that we have trillions of little tiny bits that make up "us," etc. and another thing to be able to make your cells explode [not a technical term] and to explore your very own DNA on the table in front of you!

I just read a pop-sci book that suggests to its readers that they do a variant of this with peas, and I've seriously been considering how to make a party out of it. That was almost two decades ago and it's still one of the most important science moments in my life. So rock on, PBS! DNA playdates for everyone!
posted by jetlagaddict at 8:02 AM on March 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


150 years ago they didn't even KNOW about DNA! And here we are just extracting it like every day blokes!

I'm sure blokes were extracting it every day back then too, they just didn't know about the DNA part.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:23 AM on March 8, 2012


1869 according to Wikipedia.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:31 AM on March 8, 2012


I predict this will be a popular science fair exhibit.

and...that's the most interesting thing that NOVA have done in quite some time IMO.
posted by OHenryPacey at 8:34 AM on March 8, 2012


Jesus you guys are Republicans or what? IT'S FUCKING SCIENCE! 150 years ago they didn't even KNOW about DNA! And here we are just extracting it like every day blokes!

"Sure we can smash atoms together and find out the structure of the universe, but... what the hell good is that?"


OK, now, first of all that's defamatory, and if we weren't all anonymous and stuff I would be calling up my lawyer. If my lawyer were free and took frivolous cases.

Listen, I'm not saying that we should ignore the fact of DNA or tell our scientists to avert their gazes. I am just saying that, having seen incredible pictures of DNA strands, the idea that I need to see a corrupted extract of my own DNA -- presented in a way that makes it impossible to see anything particular about it -- didn't excite me. Kind of like I don't stare in awe at my own fingerprint, unless I have left it at the scene of a crime.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 8:47 AM on March 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can do this one handed.

Spouses are perfect for this.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:48 AM on March 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I remember this demo being performed in one of our college computer science courses. It's awesome. I don't understand the "meh" comments here at all.
posted by odinsdream at 9:08 AM on March 8, 2012


The crescendo of a banjo makes me really anxious.
posted by TropicalWalrus at 9:35 AM on March 8, 2012


Ok, and then what does one do with said DNA? Make it into a necklace or something?...

Umm . . . The point being?


As a kid, I used to like looking a blood and tissue under a microscope. My sister loves telling the story of how I used to always want to cut her to compare our blood.

Curiosity is a reason in itself. So is temporarily being able to "see" the unseen.
posted by coolguymichael at 9:37 AM on March 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


Then FIAMO
posted by symbioid at 9:48 AM on March 8, 2012


Then FIAMO

If that's to me, let me just clarify that I do not genuinely think being called Republican is defamatory, and that I have no lawyer, expensive or otherwise. The only part that was true was that it would be frivolous. Sheesh.

I am convinced that my minority view as to this must be driven by a fatal combination of near-sightedness and willingness to believe something without semi-seeing it. Party on.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 10:05 AM on March 8, 2012


If I put that under a light microscope would I be able to see the chromosomes? Serious question.
posted by dibblda at 10:23 AM on March 8, 2012


We did pretty much this same thing with E. coli in biochemistry lab in college. Afterwards we may have run it on a gel, but it was >25 years ago, so I may be conflating two different labs. Anyway, this was pretty cool, and it is definitely something to do with my daughter when she is a little older and knows about DNA and so forth. It might be fun to try the technique with different biological material to see what gives the best yield. Also, if I remember correctly a glass rod is the best tool for picking up the DNA as opposed to the plastic stirrer they seem to be using-finally, a use for those fancy swizzle sticks that have been gathering dust in the back of a kitchen drawer all this time!
posted by TedW at 11:04 AM on March 8, 2012


blasdelb -"You can do that. I've done proper phenol extractions of DNA for jewelry for people out of my lab before."

"How was the DNA used in the jewelry? I'm kind of terrified by what you must have had to hack off someone to get enough DNA to form a pellet big enough to be visible when dried."

I made a necklace pendant filled with the DNA suspended in buffered 70% ethanol. It really wouldn't take that much materiel to make a pretty dried pellet though, so long as it was artfully displayed. A decent size scab would produce way more than enough.
posted by Blasdelb at 11:50 AM on March 8, 2012


Okay, I have a stupid question, which I know Blasdelb kind-of answered above but I need it explained to me in tinier words. Isn't DNA microscopic? How am I seeing it? How big is it? And what is a DNA-bound protein and why is that visible?

If my kids were just a little older this would be our after-nap project but I guess I'll have to go do it by myself. :)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:20 PM on March 8, 2012


Isn't DNA microscopic?

Imagine if you a million individual jars of water, each with a tiny grain of sand. You can't see that grain of sand. However, take every grain of sand out of every jar of water, put them together, and you'll get a little pile of sand. Same concept. Clump enough of anything microscopic together, and it becomes macroscopic. Roughly the same thing is going on here.
posted by griphus at 12:25 PM on March 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


We did a variation on this in my undergrad genetics class. Only we used fancy schmany equipment and got to make a karyotype. So freaking amazing/beautiful.


Umm . . . The point being?


Wait. Really?
posted by OsoMeaty at 3:12 PM on March 8, 2012


    "Okay, I have a stupid question, which I know Blasdelb kind-of answered above but I need it explained to me in tinier words. Isn't DNA microscopic? How big is it?"
Really really tiny, this is my favorite visualization of the scale in molecular biology that will probably help. DNA is small enough that understanding how the bases stack requires some pretty freaky quantum mechanics. DNA also has one of the best put together entries on Wikipedia, which also has some neat pictures that might help get a sense of scale. Really though, it took years for me to develop a halfway usable intuitive sense of scale from carbon atom to thimble to supplement a mathematical one.
    "How am I seeing it? And what is a DNA-bound protein and why is that visible?"
DNA is really attracted to water as well as other things that are attracted to water in the same way, as sort of a short hand it is said to be hydrophilic or water loving. You are seeing the DNA because when you dramatically reduce the concentration of water by suspending it in liquor, instead of having tons of water to satisfy its attraction it is forced to settle for binding to itself instead. Essentially, when suspended in booze instead of water, DNA clumps together into strands that are long and thick enough to be of a size visible to the naked eye.

DNA-bound proteins are just that, proteins that are bound to DNA. Proteins do most of the actual work in living systems, most of the things in this video that are not membranes or DNA are proteins. Our chromosomes, the bundles that eukaryotic DNA comes in, are actually 60% protein. They are each a long strand of DNA packed and tightly wound with protein, this is a pretty cool video of what it looks like. Since the DNA clumps in liquor the proteins that are associated with the DNA clump with it.

Protein, in the absence of pigments, looks milky white. If you think about it hair and nails are made out of karatin, a protein, and, without coloring agents in hair or red blood cells behind nails, both look that similar shade of milky white. It is the same idea for what you see suspended in the liquor.
posted by Blasdelb at 7:09 PM on March 8, 2012


Really really tiny, this is my favorite visualization of the scale in molecular biology that will probably help.

Thanks for this, it is awesome.
posted by Think_Long at 7:23 AM on March 9, 2012


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