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Tips for Choosing the Best Reagents

Knowing how and where to get reagents can save time and money while improving output

by
Andy Tay, PhD

Andy Tay, PhD is a freelance science writer based in Singapore. He can be reached at andy.csm2012@gmail.com.

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Most experiments require chemicals and reagents unless they are fully computational. Knowing how to choose and where to get them can significantly improve research productivity. It can help save money and time from troubleshooting reagents that are of subpar quality while ensuring reproducibility of data. Here are some tips:

Popularity of reagents

Researchers should refer to suppliers’ websites to check whether their reagent of choice has been used in publications and if it is a popular or “gold standard” product. The methods section of papers is a great resource for buyers to identity the specific brand and even batch of product, which is particularly important for biological experiments. For instance, it is known that animal-derived products such as Matrigel contain multiple extracellular matrix proteins and are commonly used to grow cells in three-dimensional matrix but have poorly-defined composition and batch-to-batch variability. Therefore, before making a purchase, researchers should refer to key literature to buy products that are identical, if not highly similar.  

Reputation of manufacturers

The same product can be sold by different manufacturers at various prices, and while it may be tempting to get the cheapest product, it is important to consider the reputation of manufacturers and their quality control assays. For instance, when purchasing antibodies, reputable manufacturers will typically provide information about the antigen sample, host species, and cross-species reactivity. The same principle applies for chemicals. For applications such as nanoparticle synthesis, the purity of chemicals can have dramatic impact on the yield and quality of the nanomaterials. It is thus important to find a reliable supplier that is transparent about sharing these data.

Compatibility with experiments

Even when a product may be popular and from a reputable source, it may not mean that it is always suitable for one’s experiments. For example, an enzyme linked immuno-sorbent assay kit that provides detection limit in the nano-molar range is not suitable for experiments that generate molecular concentration in the pico-molar range due to low cell numbers. Therefore, it is crucial for researchers to consider experimental needs and existing lab facilities when purchasing reagents. It can be helpful to request samples to try before committing to a purchase.

Knowing how to choose and where to buy products is an important skill for researchers to enhance their productivity.

Delivery concerns

Owing to rising transport costs and delays in shipping, supply chains have been disrupted. Researchers should take this into account because delays in delivery may affect the stability of the products and subsequent experimental outcomes. Additionally, when product delivery is delayed, it means that troubleshooting and optimization is slowed as researchers are unable to quickly tests different products and identify the most suitable one. Because of this, it can be useful to consider buying reagents from manufacturers in one’s country or a regional country with shorter delivery time. It may also reduce the hassle of customs delays, especially for toxic chemicals or potentially harmful biological items that require special packaging, handling, and license to possess.

Knowing how to choose and where to buy products is an important skill for researchers to enhance their productivity. Having a thorough understanding of one’s experimental needs, checking the popularity of reagents and reputation of suppliers, and taking into consideration delivery time helps researchers make their best decisions.