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    The Tediousness of Finding Product Alternatives Before Beginning A Scientific Experiment

    Linda May-Zhang By Linda May-Zhang - 2 minutes read

    When you think about starting a new experiment, you probably think: Exciting, daunting, hopeful, time-consuming, challenging…

    You may also think:

    I need to have all my supplies together.
    I hope my experiment is well-designed with necessary controls.
    I hope I can execute this with no hiccups.
    I hope I get good data.

    How about the process before starting the experiment? All those mental decisions BEFORE even placing an order? I know, groan.

    .  .  .

    You might be able to relate to this process…
    Before even beginning a new cell culture experiment, I will need…


    Cell culture media with Fetal Bovine Serum

    Task: FBS is so expensive. I want a cheaper alternative.

    ● *Googles*
    ● Wow, Millipore Sigma has about 10 options. So does Thermo Fisher. Why different costs?
    ● Why do I have to click on each item to get pricing?
    ● Is there a way to compare products?
    ● FBS is just FBS, right? Should I just pick the cheapest one and hope for the best?
    ● On second thought, maybe I should use what we’ve always used.
    ● But I can save $200/bottle….
    ● If something goes wrong with my experiment, then that will waste my time. I might as well stick to what I know.
    ● Unavailable!! No!!! I guess I’ll pick the cheaper option and cross my fingers.



    Sterile DMSO
    Task: I need a highly pure DMSO as a vehicle, which is a common organic solvent, but I
    also need it to be cell culture friendly.

    ● There are several options through Sigma but can they be used for cell culture?
    ● There is an option for cell culture but I am not sure about its purity.
    ● *Opens spec sheet for each option for further reading*
    ● *Clicks, clicks, clicks*
    ● According to this spec sheet, the option we use for organic synthesis can be sterilized for cell culture if I use a sterile filter…
    ● Maybe I should consult Google again.
    ● Back to square one. Maybe I’ll just order the 99.9% pure DMSO that I will sterilize myself.



    3. ELISA kit
    Task: I need a specific ELISA kit that I do not have personal experience with.

    ● The reference paper does not say where they ordered the ELISA kit! Sigh.
    ● *Googles*
    ● Wow, several to choose from. Why the huge price range?
    ● What’s the assay range? Sensitivity? What kind of antibody do they use? What end of the protein does it recognize? Cross-reactivity? How long will the assay take?
    ● *Creates detailed spreadsheet*
    ● Well, the cheapest kit satisfies my criteria but I am not sure if I can trust it? Has anyone published on it?
    ● Maybe I will order this moderately expensive kit that has been cited a few times.



    4. Tubes
    We ran out of the special tubes. My supervisor just asked me to see if there are
    cheaper alternatives because we’ve just been blowing through them.

    ● Let me pull up our preferred vendors…
    ● And *Google*…
    ● Here’s a cheap one. But how do I know that it’s good quality and that the plastic won’t break? Is it pre-sterilized?
    ● Maybe I’ll just order a small batch and perhaps stick to what we know for now.
    ● Wait, these tubes are out of stock too?
    ● Hmmmm, maybe I’ll try the cheaper one…

    .  .  .

    Well folks, I am exhausted. I just spent half the day deciding on what to get for this new
    experiment. All these browser tabs are making my head spin. I wish there was an easier way to decide on products or alternatives so I can actually be excited about beginning my experiment!

    Linda May-Zhang

    About the Author

    Linda May-Zhang is a biomedical scientist and engineer with 13 years of research experience in the labs. Currently working as a postdoctoral researcher at Vanderbilt University, Linda enjoys science writing in her free time.

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