Last Updated on
February 15, 2022
Biology laboratories, or biological research and development labs, perform analyses, experiments, and studies to better understand how biological processes work. Scientists in biological R&D rely on a wide range of equipment to translate a scientific discovery into an intervention that improves human health and wellbeing.
If you’re building a wet lab focused on biotechnology or biopharmaceutical research, you’ll likely have a specific set of tools and laboratory equipment you’ll need to perform research. These include microscopes, chromatography systems, flow cytometers, next-generation sequencers, and much more.
This article will focus on some of the specialized, high-tech biology lab instruments you’ll need; however, we’ll include a list of more general lab equipment you’ll need as well.
A fluorescence microscope makes it possible to see fluorescent dyes or proteins at the cellular and subcellular levels. They not the optical compound microscopes you’d commonly see in a middle school or high school science class. However, much like optical microscopes, they do often rely on visible light as an illumination source, or light source.
Furthermore, while the magnification is similar, the level of resolution a fluorescence microscope can achieve is greatly increased due to the use of fluorophores that are chemically bonded to the molecules in the sample. The microscope’s light source can excite the entire sample or individual particles within the sample to determine its fluorescent behavior.
But, the light source used in a fluorescence microscope needs to emit the specific wavelengths of light that excite the fluorophores present in the sample. Because of this, it’s common to see white light sources being used in fluorescence microscopes, since white light contains all the wavelengths of light in the visible spectrum. From there, scientists can use specific excitation filters to select a wavelength within this range.
An analytical lab balance weighs samples and substances between .01 and 500 milligrams. The measuring pans are generally enclosed inside a glass box to prevent dust from settling in the pan since they can disrupt testing.
Never place chemicals directly on the balance pan unless they are at room temperature and unreactive. Instead, place the sample in a container before measuring. Containers, glassware, and pieces of metal can be placed on the pan. Measure it, weighing the container first to adjust for its weight. Return the weights back to zero.
A centrifuge spins an object to separate particles from a solution based on density using the sedimentation principle.
Place the sample in a centrifuge tube, set the parameters, and run the machine. Centrifuges can be used in many lab settings, but are often used to separate whole blood components.
Microplate readers are used for analyzing specific phenomena in microtiter plates. This allows microbiologists to test multiple samples at once. These readers use absorbance, fluorescence and/or luminescence-based techniques to look at samples.
Load the sample into the plate, set it into the microplate reader, and set the appropriate test conditions. Results are analyzed via computer.
A flow cytometer detects and measures the cell biology of a group of particles or cell populations and is used for analyzing cell surface expressions and intracellular molecules. A computer then processes the data collected.
The sample for analysis must be suspended in a fluid. The fluid is injected into the flow cytometer where it is focused to move through a laser beam one cell at a time. After processing the sample, use the computer to analyze the results. These machines are often used in cell imaging, cell signaling, immunophenotyping, and more.
NGS sequences DNA and RNA. With rapid technological advancement in the field, an entire human genome can be sequenced within a single day. They play an important role in studying molecular biology.
An NGS can be used to sequence an entire genome or look at specific parts of it, isolating certain genes. It is used to study genetic disease, population variations, protein interactions with nucleic acids, and much more.
PCR, short for polymerase chain reaction, is commonly used in biology and microbiology labs to amplify DNA sequences. The technique is performed using a PCR machine, also known as a thermal cycler or PCR system. Using a three step process, PCR can generate millions of copies of a specific piece of DNA.
It is considered a high-throughput technique and is widely used for many applications in the life sciences, such as molecular biology, microbiology, genetics, pharmaceutical research, diagnostics, clinical laboratories, forensic science, and much more.
The polymerase chain reaction process is spread across three steps, with the assistance of five essential reagents. The steps include denaturing, annealing, and extension, or elongation. Furthermore, there are five essential reagents needed to make PCR work. These include a DNA template, DNA Polymerase, primers, dNTPs(Deoxynucleotide triphosphate), and a PCR buffer or mix of buffers, including chemical compounds like MgCl2
After the initial denaturation is performed, the three main steps are repeated using a PCR machine, or PCR system, until millions of copies of a target DNA sequence exist.
Gel electrophoresis is a preparative technique used to separate and extract DNA fragments, RNA, and proteins based on their size and charge in order to analyze them. It’s commonly used in PCR, Southern blotting, genome mapping, DNA sequencing, DNA fingerprinting, and plant breeding. Its versatility means gel electrophoresis is found in a wide variety of labs; It’s a necessary step in many studies and experiments concerning medicine, forensic science, and conservation biology, just to name a few.
Gel electrophoresis equipment is used to conduct the technique. Molecular samples are loaded into a box or chamber filled with a gel-like substance, such as agarose, which is a polysaccharide. The gel electrophoresis apparatus is equipped with a negative electrode, or anode, on one side and a positive electrode, or cathode, on the other side, creating an electrical current that courses through the gel from end to end.
The electrical current will separate the fragments based on their size or charge, and the apparatus will be horizontal or vertical, depending on your exact needs.
An ultra-low temperature (ULT) freezer stores biological material such as bacteria, viruses, and cells. It works like a traditional refrigerator but operates at a much lower temperature – from -45 to -150 degrees celsius, depending on their intended purpose.
Use the ULT freezer to store biological material until it is ready for testing. Depending on the type – upright, chest, table-top, or under-counter – and the max temperature, only certain samples may be stored.
A CO2 incubator is a sealed, climate-controlled box used in life science labs to grow cell cultures by managing carbon dioxide and oxygen levels within the chamber. They maintain the same conditions as the sample’s natural environment for testing and research purposes. For example, if studying a human cell, the incubator would replicate the conditions inside a human body.
Prepare the sample in a petri dish, and place it in the incubator to allow a culture to grow. These cultured cells are often used in medical applications or for the production of biopharmaceuticals.
Besides all the specialized—and even customizable—equipment you’ll need, there is a long list of general lab equipment that you’ll need as well. This equipment includes a lot of small and large items that every lab needs, but particularly biology-specific labs. The list includes a mixture of equipment and supplies.
Although you may not need every single item on this list, it’s important to consider whether or not you’ll need any of these devices or supplies. You’d be surprised how easy it is to forget the little things when you’re setting up an entirely new laboratory.
Opening a biology lab can cost anywhere from $50K to a few million dollars depending on the type of lab, where it’s located, and the specific instrumentation you’ll need. Fortunately, there are ways you can raise money and keep costs low.
The majority of your costs will be the lab space and the equipment itself. A lot of this depends on the area you’re operating in and whether you purchase new or used equipment or are willing to lease equipment. You’ll also have to consider staff salary along with any utilities not included in facility rent.
Purchasing equipment new from the manufacturer requires a large upfront payment, but ensures that you have the highest quality equipment on the market. While new equipment has less of a chance of breakdown, future maintenance and repair costs or service contracts will add to these expenses.
Compared to buying new, used equipment can help you save a significant amount of money. But, you still have to deal with repair and maintenance. If a machine you just bought malfunctions shortly after, you’re stuck spending even more money. For the lab on a budget, it can be a major risk.
Leasing lab equipment is an alternative that prevents you from having to shell out a big upfront sum for all the equipment you need to start your lab. Since maintenance and repair are included in your lease’s cost, it can be far more economical to use this approach. By leasing your equipment, you spread your payments out over time, preserving your budget for other ongoing operational needs. You can choose between leasing new or manufacturer refurbished equipment, the latter of which can help you save even more on costs.