There are many options for extracting nucleic acid in your lab. Between manual workflows, automated workflows, sample types and instrumentation, the resulting mix of options, benefits, and potential pitfalls can be a lot to sort through. We’re here to help.
In this article, we give a brief overview of what your lab needs to reliably extract usable nucleic acid for downstream applications, as well as potential advantages and challenges to overcome.
We’ll start with the basic requirements and then dive into the main advantages and challenges of performing the nucleic acid extraction step in-house.
What your Lab Needs for Effective Nucleic Acid Extraction
- #1) Extraction Protocols – the first thing you’ll need to establish is the protocols your lab will use to extract nucleic acid. These protocols can be manual or automated protocols. There are many manual ways to extract nucleic acid from a variety of samples, but if you plan to extract at scale, you may find manual workflows too time-consuming and unreliable. If you elect automation, your lab will require instrumentation. If your lab doesn’t have an extraction instrument, purchasing one will be a sizeable up-front investment. Now, if you plan on scaling your research or performing more extractions in the future, investing in instrumentation could be wise.
- #2) Reagents – Those instruments need a constant supply of consumables and plastics to run the samples through the protocol. It’s important to have plenty of these kits on hand – that also means having the storage space to house them all.
- #3) Staff – Automated nucleic acid extraction protocols don’t eliminate the need for knowledgeable staff to run the instruments. If you plan on performing DNA/RNA extraction in-house, you need the staff to do the job right. If you don’t have people, you’re looking at hiring and training costs, so make sure to take that into account as you allocate your funding.
- #4) Lab space – Lastly, you need the space in the lab to store your samples and set up instrumentation. Empty lab space can be hard to come by. If your space is already filled with essential equipment for other parts of your research, DNA extraction automation may not be feasible.
- #5) Cold storage – Processing samples immediately can be a challenge. If you are unable to process samples immediately, then you need to be prepared to have cold storage options like -80°C freezers or liquid nitrogen. It’s critical to stop metabolic activity of your sample, or you’ll sacrifice quality.
- #6) Quantification tools – After isolating your sample, you now need to determine that your workflow has produced nucleic acid of sufficient quality for today’s downstreams. To do that, you’ll need tools like a NanoDrop, a Qubit, or others like a TapeStation. Determining you’ve achieved good quality in your extractions is key. Without it, your downstream methods will suffer, and you may be wasting the expense of costly downstream procedures.
With those must-haves out of the way, let’s dig into the advantages of performing nucleic acid extraction in-house.
Advantages of In-House Nucleic Acid Extraction
If your lab is equipped with the requirements above or if you have the funding to invest in these areas, it opens the door for many advantages.
Advantage #1 – Full Control of the Process
The first advantage of performing nucleic acid extractions in your own lab is you have full control. If you have the right experience, you can ensure your samples are exactly how you need them.
You also won’t have to worry about transporting your samples, which adds time and, when handled improperly, can undermine the sample quality.
Advantage #2 – Efficiency
Running nucleic acid extraction in-house is also efficient. You save time and eliminate transportation and logistical steps.
At the same time, with automated protocols, technicians can perform other tasks while the samples run through the instrumentation for extraction. This will make your research processes even more efficient.
Advantage #3 – Scalability
Having the instrumentation in-house allows you to scale your DNA and RNA extraction capabilities. If you’re planning on increasing your lab’s capabilities or if you have excess funding that you need to spend, an investment in high-quality DNA extraction equipment could be a wise one.
However, you need to get the right instrumentation and protocols in your lab. Instruments that can process a wide variety of samples with a wide variety of protocols are key.
Challenges of In-House Nucleic Acid Extraction
Without the proper equipment and expertise, your lab will run into challenges as you start your nucleic acid extraction efforts.
Challenge #1 – Cost Constraints
Setting your lab up to extract nucleic acid in house is expensive. Now, like we said before, that up-front investment may be worth it for your lab’s purposes.
But sometimes, there is only so much funding to go around, and you need to be considerate with where you spend that money. It may not be wise, or you may simply not have the money to spend on DNA or RNA extraction as well as the cost of an annual service contract should you use automation.
Challenge #2 – Resource Constraints
Extracting nucleic acid in your lab is resource-intensive. Beyond funding and the up-front investment in instrumentation, it requires lab space and energy.
Finding a place for new instrumentation can be a challenge. Then, pair that with the energy needed to run those automated instruments, and in some cases, store samples like blood in a deep freeze at -80°C.
These resource costs can add up and eat into limited funding or operational budget.
Challenge #3 – Quality Concerns
At the end of the day, the most important question to ask is this:
Do you have the instrumentation, expertise and processes in place to ensure your nucleic acid extraction will be the quality you need it to be?
If the answer is no, you may end up with a poorer-quality extraction if you’re doing it yourself.
All the challenges and requirements listed above determine the quality of your sample. If something goes wrong anywhere along the way, it can mean delays in your research. Or worse, collecting samples from your study population may not even be possible.
Conclusion: Sometimes Outsourcing Makes More Sense
If you have the lab space, expertise, and instrumentation in place, then performing DNA extractions in-house is sensible. It can unlock many advantages for your lab, including the ability to scale your operations and complete your sample processing more efficiently.
However, if you lack those requirements, finding a way to outsource nucleic acid extractions may make more sense. That’s where an outsourced extraction specialist can help give you peace of mind. An expert partner can ensure the quality of your samples no matter your downstream applications.
But make sure you choose the right extraction lab partner – one that is fully transparent and communicative at every step of the process.
Want to start exploring DNA extraction? Get in touch with the team at AutoGen. Our extractions are always the highest quality, dialed into your exact specifications.