Hobby molecular biology

What would be required to set up an inexpensive system for hobbyists to experiment with biology? Consider PCR for example. PCR requires heat stable polymerase, primers, nucleotides, buffer.

The DNA polymerase is easy to purify from E. coli carrying the plasmid. Grow bacteria containing plasmid expressing Taq DNA polymerase, boil, spin down denatured proteins, and you are left with the DNA polymerase.

Primers can be bought inexpensively–$0.35 per base, a pair of 18-mers cost less than the shipping. Though they are inexpensive only if one set gets used repeatedly.

The cost of buffer (NaCl, MgCl2, Tris) is negligible.

Nucleotides are expensive up front, $150 for a set of dNTPs (dATP, dCTP, dGTP, dTTP), but this works out to about $0.06 per 50 ul PCR reaction.

Can nucleotides be prepared by a hobbyist? Nucleotides are easy to obtain-DNA is a major constituent of cells and is easy to purify. DNA + DNAase = dAMP, dCMP, dGMP, and dTMP. How can the trinucleotides be regenerated?

One route is to do it enzymatically using
polyphosphate:AMP phosphotransferase (PPT) and adenylate kinase (AdK) with polyphosphate (polyP) as the energy source (Resnick and Zehnder, 2000). It is not clear how the trinucleotide product would be separated and purified. Presumably different enzyme pairs could be used to regenerate the other dNTPs from the monophosphates.

These other enzymes could be cloned in E. coli expression vectors and purified either by tagging them with His6 and using a Ni or Co resin. Or by cloning heat-stable isoforms from one of the extremophiles and using a one-step boiling purification like that used for Taq polymerase.

Update: Bochkov et al., 2006 describe a method of preparing dNTPs from digested DNA. DNA is digested with DNAase and Nuclease S1. DNAase chews DNA into show oligonucleotides and the nuclease breaks them down to single dNMPs.

Then a crude extract of E. coli is prepared that contains the kinases to convert dNMPs to dNTPs along with the acetokinase. The kinases use ATP. ATP must be regenerated, and this is done using acetokinase with acetyl phosphate ($30/g) as an energy source. Combined dNMPs were converted to dNTPs with at least 86% regeneration and separated from reactants by chromatography on a Dowex 1×2 anion exchanger. The conversion was followed by thin-layer chromatography.

For PCR it may be possible to use a crude purification of nucleotides, but purification protocols would need to be developed and tested.

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