January 17th, 2020

By Yifei Wang

When my mom last visited me from China she saw my daily tasks in the Montclare lab. Upon returning home, she confided that she now understood why clinical treatments are so expensive. She saw the high cost of bioengineering research, including both physical materials and dollars. Inspired by the discussion with my mother, I decided to count the number of single use items consumed in a cycle of sample protein production to quantify some of the costs of research.

Sample Protein Production Overview

The production of sample protein begins by inserting the target protein’s DNA into E.coli. cells. The E.coli. containing the protein’s DNA are grown to produce the desired protein, almost like a protein factory. Our lab uses these proteins as a drug delivery material.

Sample Protein Production 

We first make a dish to grow and select cells. E.coli. take 14-16 hours to grow on the plates. This step requires the following single-use items: 3 plastic dishes, 3 glass pipettes, 2 small Eppendorf tubes, and 6 micropipette tips.


Then we select a small portion one cell colony and place it into a test tube with media for growing cells. We let it grow overnight. We need 1 glass test tube, 10 micropipet tips, and 3 serological pipettes for this step.

The next day we grow the cells in a larger flask for a greater yield. We centrifuge them into a pellet and dump the liquid media. In this step approximately 8 Eppendorf tubes, 6 micropipette tips, and 6 serological pipettes are used for each of the 6 pellets.

Next, we smash the cells with ultrasound to harvest the protein. Finally, we purify the harvested protein. For purification, we need about 20 Falcon tubes, 2 serological pipettes, 18 micropipette tips, and 14 Eppendorf tubes.

In total, for the product of a single sample protein, we consume 64 Eppendorf tubes, 70 micropipette tips, 3 glass pipettes, 3 plastic plates, 1 glass test tube, 41 serological pipettes, and 20 falcon tubes. Additionally, each experiment consumes buffers, chemicals, and time.

With each step we utilize new single use items such as pipette tips and tubes. While this may seem wasteful, it is the best way we have contrived to minimize contamination. When a sample is contaminated, we are unable to produce the protein we need. Therefore, the experiment must be run again. This wastes even more resources!


We’d love to hear from you with suggestions for materials and time efficiency in research. Please feel free to contact me via twitter!

Yifei Wang