DNA/RNA Gel Electrophoresis

Since the 1950s, scientists have used gel electrophoresis to separate charged molecules like DNA, RNA and proteins according to their size. The separation can lead to their identification, quantification and purification.

A gel electrophoresis system consists of a gel matrix (typically agarose or polyacrylamide, depending on the size of the fragments) sitting in an electrophoresis tank, a buffer solution that conducts the electric current and a power supply. The molecules travel through the gel when an electric current is applied. Smaller molecules migrate faster than large ones, creating a separation by molecule size on the gel. All molecules need to have the same charge for this to be true. For example, DNA is negatively charged and will therefore move towards the positively charged electrode.

In order to see the separated molecules, the gel needs to be stained. Ethidium bromide has been routinely used for decades to stain DNA/RNA gels, but because it is a potent mutagen, replacements such as SYBR Safe and FlashBlue are becoming more popular.

In the era of genomics, gel electrophoresis is an everyday tool, with facilities from educational labs to applied R&D laboratories utilizing the technique. Despite DNA/RNA electrophoresis being a very simple and cheap technology, modern techniques such as qPCR and capillary electrophoresis are replacing it. For high-throughput settings such as hospitals and biotech companies, qPCR may be a better option, since PCR product visualization does not require further manual operation and many more samples can be run at the same time.

Academic institutions account for almost half of the total demand for electrophoresis systems, often with multiple units per lab. Forensic laboratories processing DNA/RNA samples use electrophoresis when providing analytical services.

The DNA/RNA electrophoresis market is dominated by GE Healthcare Life Sciences, followed by Bio-Rad Laboratories and Thermo Fisher Scientific. Together, these three companies account for two-thirds of the total market. GE Healthcare offers consumables and components, as well as imaging systems that are highly customizable for specific applications. Bio-Rad’s systems are broadly utilized across academic institutions, as they tend to be simple and easy to use. But the company has discontinued high-end products such as the Experion Automated Electrophoresis Station and the ExQuest Spot Cutter. Thermo Fisher is known for its integrated systems and its precast gels that make the electrophoresis process easier and faster.

The DNA/RNA gel electrophoresis market totaled approximately $260 million in 2017. Innovative integrated systems, which combine the electrophoresis chamber, power supply and visualization into a single unit, will spur growth in the years to come. Although demand for traditional systems is waning in more established regions, their popularity in growing in emerging markets, particularly China and India.


DNA/RNA Electrophoresis at a Glance:

 Top vendors

  • GE Healthcare Life Sciences
  • Bio-Rad Laboratories
  • Thermo Fisher Scientific

End-user Markets

  • Academia
  • Biotechnology
  • Government Research

Initial System Prices

  • $2,000–$120,000
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