How To Extract Your Own DNA

Using basic kitchen supplies

Every one of your cells contains DNA, the molecular blueprint that makes you you. Accessing that blueprint may seem like a job for scientists. But extracting DNA from your cells is actually surprisingly simple.

Mac Cowell, an advocate for open-source biotechnology, created a set of simple instructions that lets anyone isolate her own DNA in mere minutes. The rough-and-ready procedure uses basic kitchen supplies, including the best possible container: a shot glass. This DIY process won't create the cleanest sample, but avid biohackers can purify the DNA after it's extracted. Once you have a pure sample, you can try sorting the DNA fragments by size or building a DIY DNA-copying machine.

Materials + Tools

  • A clean shot glass
  • Saliva
  • Dish soap
  • Table salt
  • Pineapple juice (or meat tenderizer, or cleaning solution for contact lenses)
  • Chilled alcohol (120 proof or higher)—we used high-proof rum
  • Drinking straw
  • Toothpick

Instructions

  1. Spit into the shot glass until it's a quarter full of your saliva. (If you're having trouble salivating, imagine you're sucking a lemon-flavored candy.) The saliva is laden with cells, shed from your cheeks and mouth lining, which are full of DNA.
  2. Add a few drops of dish soap. This will break open the cells, a process called "lysing."
  3. Add a tiny splash of pineapple juice. This will clean up some of the proteins that have spilled out of your cells alongside your DNA.
  4. Add a pinch of salt. This causes the DNA to start clumping together.
  5. Swirl the shot glass to mix the ingredients.
  6. Gently fill the rest of the shot glass with the high-proof alcohol, which should sit in a layer on top of the mixture. To prevent it from mixing too much, you can add the alcohol gradually with a drinking straw: Put the straw into the alcohol, cap it with your finger, hold the straw right over the liquid in the shot glass, and release.
  7. Use a toothpick to spool up the cloudy, snot-like material that has formed in the glass. This is your DNA—a gross result of some cool science.