Introduction: 5 Minute DNA Extraction in a Shot Glass

Picture of 5 Minute DNA Extraction in a Shot Glass
Despite its exotic-sounding name, DNA is ubiquitous - it can be found in every cell of every living thing and almost everywhere on the planet. Nonetheless, we rarely come face-to-face with the molecule itself - and it's not because DNA is difficult to find or isolate! In this instructable, we'll show you how to isolate your own DNA with little more than some dish soap, table salt, high-proof alcohol, a shot glass, and a bit of your own saliva.

It only takes a couple of minutes, and after you've isolated your own DNA, you can either drink it back down in a tasty "DNA shot" (great party trick) or better yet, purify it further for more analysis*.

Materials & Set Up
  • 1/4 of a shot glass full of your saliva
  • several drops of dish soap (look for sodium laurel sulfate in the ingredients)
  • a pinch of table salt (1/16 of a teaspoon)
  • some contact-lens cleaning solution, meat tenderizer, or pineapple juice (optional)
  • Ice-cold 120-proof+ liquor (overproof rum works well)
The chemicals used in this experiment are "everyday" household items and are not particularly dangerous. Nonetheless, exercise extra caution and think twice if you decide to consume your DNA shot and ABSOLUTELY do not substitue rubbing alcohol, isopropyl alcohol, or any other non-consumable alcohol for the overproof rum we used. Besides using "denatured' alcohol, the other potential safety concern is the dishsoap added to the mixture. A couple drops won't hurt you, but if you are concerned about it, feel free to leave it out.

This instructable was produced by DIYbio - an organization for amateur biotechnologists. Visit for more information.

EDIT: Some DIYbioers are developing a simple gel box and a gel box on steroids. We should have some instructables put together for them before Dec 08. If you are interested in helping, please join the DIYbio google group!

Step 1: Salivation...GO!

Picture of Salivation...GO!

1/4 of a shot glass of saliva is harder to produce than you might think! Work your tongue against your cheeks and teeth as you think of a big juicy grilled steak / tofu cube / dim sum, or Muffins / baked cookies . I had to spit about 5 times to fill the glass 1/4th full.

If you are making the DNA shot for someone else, be sure to let them know where the DNA came from.

Step 2: Add a Couple Drops of Soap

Picture of Add a Couple Drops of Soap

Now that we have some saliva to work with, the first step is to break open (lyse) the cells it contains. We can do this by mixing in a couple of drops of the dish soap.

The detergents in the dish soap (like the sodium laurel sulfate, aka sodium dodecyl sulfate) destabilize the membranes of the cells, spilling their contents into the rest of the solution of saliva. This includes all of the cytoplasmic and nuclear proteins, sugars, and yes, nucleic acids (DNA! and rna.) But all of this stuff is still dissolved in the saliva. The rest of the steps will cause the DNA to aggregate and precipitate out of solution.

Step 3: Some Protease...

Picture of Some Protease...

Now that we've busted open the cells, they've spilled their guts all over the place in our saliva solution. in this step we try and get rid of as much of the protein part of those guts as we can.

A protease is a type of enzyme that can break down other enzymes. Meat tenderizer, pineapple juice, and soft contact lens cleaning solution all contain (different) proteases. A tiny bit of any of those should reduce the amount of protein that precipitates out with our DNA later on.

Step 4: And a Pinch of Salt

Picture of And a Pinch of Salt

Just add a pinch of table salt to the soapy saliva. I used less than 1/16th of a teaspoon, and that was probably too much.

So what's the deal?
Although we have freed the DNA from the cells, it's still dissolved in the solution. To get the DNA to precipitate and solidify, we need to do something about each molecule's negatively-charged phosphate backbone.

When we dissolve the table salt in the solution, some of the positively-charged Sodium ions will interact with the negatively-charged regions of the DNA molecules and effectively shield other nearby DNA molecules from their repulsive force - this will help them all aggregate and clump together in the next step.

To visualize the idea here, imagine the resistance you feel when you begin to push the south poles of two magnets together - this is sort of like what's going on between the individual DNA molecules. Now imagine inserting the north pole of a third magnet between the south poles of the first two - the resistance is reduced. The north pole of the third magnet is sort of like the Sodium ion in our solution.

Step 5: Pour on a Layer of the Rum

Picture of Pour on a Layer of the Rum

Mix the solution in the shot glass for a minute by gently shaking and rocking the glass.

Now gently add a layer of the overproof rum to fill up the shot glass. The best way to do this is by tilting the shot glass and transferring the rum over a little bit at a time using a straw. If you have a steady hand, however (or just think you do, like me), you can try and slowly pour the icy-cold rum from the bottle onto the top of the saliva in the shot glass. The key thing here is to prevent the alcohol from mixing much past the surface of the saliva.

You should see some cloudy, snot-like white stuff suddenly appear near the boundary between the saliva and alcohol as you add the alcohol. This is DNA (and probably a lot of other cellular junk) precipitating out of solution!

What's going on? DNA is not very soluble in alcohol, so some of the free DNA at the surface of the saliva solution immediately precipitates when we begin to add the alcohol. Other, deeper DNAs are pulled out of solution by the precipitating DNAs into the alcohol, and suddenly we end up with this visible floating mass of DNA. You can see the precipitate in the second photo.

Step 6: Spool Your DNA

Picture of Spool Your DNA

If you are in a playful mood, you can use a small rod like a toothpick to spool up your DNA. Insert the toothpick into the DNA precipitate and gently swirl it around, rotating the toothpick at the same time. You're trying to wind the filaments of precipitated DNA around the tip of the toothpick.

Once you think you've got them, you can slowly lift the toothpick out of the solution. You should see it trailing a thin strand... of DNA! (check out the second picture; note that my shot glass has a red yelp logo on it)

At this point, you could prepare the spooled DNA on the toothpick for use in another experiment - for instance, you might be interested in staining the DNA to make sure you actually extracted some of it, or in running it on a homemade gel to separate all the different fragments of DNA by their length. Or you might try and prepare for sequencing (but you would probably need to purify the sample first)

Step 7: Tastes Like DNA!

Picture of Tastes Like DNA!
MMMM - Can you taste the DNA ?

I decided to drink my DNA shot. I thought my body might resent the fact I had taken some of its DNA - the blueprint and program that defined how it grew into what it is today - and not shared any with it. Also, I wanted to see if my DNA had a particular taste.

Results: the DNA shot tastes like very potent, cheap rum. But it was one of the best drinks I can remember making.

Safety Note: be sure you are using consumable alcohol bought from a liquor store - anything else will poison you. Be safe, and think twice before you mindlessly follow directions.

More information about the chemistry of the DNA precipitation reaction and other version of the DIY DNA extraction protocol can be found here:
Hope you enjoyed this DIY protocol! If so, join us!
- Mac from


gogoplata (author)2008-12-26

We did this in biology a few years ago with strawberries. Is there any way to do this and extract the DNA from white blood cells?

gahaga (author)gogoplata2008-12-27

There are no White blood cells in Strawberries :-) But if you want DNA from WBC's, you might consider following this protocol using puss from an acne lesion (a puss filled zit, or other source of puss) instead of spit. Otherwise, you'll need to get some blood, separate the Red blood cells (very easy really) and then you'll have mostly WBCs. It depends on how "purely WBC" the DNA needs to be. Why do you want to do this?

gogoplata (author)gahaga2008-12-28

I was just interested to see if this could be used for some amateur research or something. I think the DNA would need to be from only WBC.

ArtW8 (author)gogoplata2017-07-02

You can get blood sample tubes that have that gel in them at any hospital or laboratory. If you have a friend that's a firefighter or a nurse just ask them to snag you a few. They throw them away all the time! The nurse will know what cap color you need for WBC. You will need a centrifuge to finish the separation process. But that should be easy for any maker!

gahaga (author)gogoplata2008-12-28

MediaTech sells a product call Lymphocyte Separation mediumLymphocyte Separation medium (cat # 25-072-CI, 100 mL for <$20). That will do the trick, if you're starting with whole blood

gogoplata (author)gahaga2008-12-29

Thank you. I will look into that.

Shut Up Now (author)gogoplata2009-02-02

i did this with strawberries too. oh, and we used freezer cold methynol. we used a microscope to look at it after. we saw some double helixes.

Um. BS. If you saw double helices, you were hallucinating.

ArtW8 (author)sdowney-forsythe2017-07-02

He probably saw chromosomes and just misremembered....BUT, my JHS science teacher had a homebrew electron microscope that was amazing! And that was nearly fifty years ago!

Yeah, you need an electron microscope for those...

ste5442 (author)Shut Up Now2009-03-12

Wow - that must have been some microscope ;-)


Shut Up Now (author)ste54422009-12-24

no, just a typical school grade light-microscope.

CraigN8 (author)Shut Up Now2016-02-02

you can, all this does is it unravels the dna so its bigger.

Earths_hope (author)Shut Up Now2010-02-17

what grade? I did it in grade 5 with strawberries and used methalated spirits


Organiks (author)gogoplata2011-11-14

A more important question is can you isolate white blood cells? That is far more difficult than ethanol precipitation

Maker Zoo made it! (author)2015-11-21

Did it! Used rubbing alcohol instead of rum, and rice instead of human saliva. We have no intention of consuming the finished product, we're doing this to test our DIYbio centrifuge and getting ready for a rice DNA barcoding workshop.

Thanks for the Instructable.

NicolòB made it! (author)2015-06-02

I made it! I used toothpaste instead of dish soap and the results were very good. In the pic there is the vial where i put what i think is my DNA and ethanol.

ccrespo2 (author)2014-01-14

WARNING: DRINKING ANY AMOUNT OF DISH SOAP CAN CAUSE DIARRHEA. Just wanted to put that out that since nobody's said it yet.

lifeonthedge (author)2013-12-16

Would this process work only on animal cells? Or could it be used to extract plant DNA as well? What about bacteria? Is the DNA pure enough to use in experiments?

Derpancakes (author)2013-03-27

Is there an "under-21" way to do this?

danbemp (author)Derpancakes2013-03-30

the 70% or 91% isopropanol you can buy at any supermarket should be fine, just don't drink it : )

Broom (author)2011-11-15

Any chance I'll get superpowers, if I expose the shot of DNA to some radiation? Maybe 10 seconds in the microwave...

JuCo (author)2011-11-14

not to be too crude, but the implications of "5 minute dna extraction in a shot glass" had me giggling for a moment.

jobard (author)2011-08-23

Can I use Absinthe instead of overproof rum?

jschroedl (author)2008-11-22

Ew. cool project. Would there be anything interesting to see under a microscope?

bears0 (author)jschroedl2009-10-24

 i dont think you can see dna under a microscope if you could it would have to magnify like one centillion time

oh and yes centillion is a number it has 330 zeros
thats a lot

crysisatutz (author)bears02011-06-14

No, magnification of M=10^8 should be sufficient. Neutron scattering could do a good job for regarding DNA molecules.

Plaid Demon (author)bears02009-10-26


rocket master (author)2011-03-27

If you chew your cheeks, you get more DNA.

McGrep (author)2011-02-20

Fascinating. Why had I no idea this could be done so easily?

chibibunny713 (author)2010-02-26

 Hey - how long can these last for, What liquid can I preserve mine in (indefinitely), and How do you dye them?

cheesekake22 (author)2010-02-17

we did this in Project STEM and you can just swish salt water and it works fine.

Nitsuji (author)2010-02-07

Canida is almost right. Pineapple, kiwi, and papaya all contain "proteases," enzymes that break-down proteins. However, each fruit contains a pretty different enzyme: pineapple has bromelain, kiwi has actinidin, figs have ficin, and papaya has papain. 

niwrad (author)2010-01-28

hahaha nice trick! I did this with onions!!

hamado (author)2010-01-08

really going to try it right now
wish it works...

CapnTac (author)2009-12-21

What if you could clone yourself with it? That would be shweet.

kid123 (author)2009-02-02

you can do this with rubbing alcohol

stonehenge360 (author)kid1232009-02-23

yes but drinking rubbing alcohol will kill you

zhou777 (author)stonehenge3602009-11-23

yes, but you don't have to drink it. 

nrepak (author)2009-10-29

i dont know how much I would want to drink contacts lens solution considering what it does to the bowels

bears0 (author)2009-10-24

 we did that with spinach one time

SlashDev (author)2009-03-15

did you just drink dish washing detergent and/or meat tenderizer? bleah :P

awang8 (author)SlashDev2009-03-15

Steak contains meat tenderizer...

minime12358 (author)awang82009-08-17

also, your plate must contain traces of dish washing detergent.....

DrWeird117 (author)2009-07-18

Hmm...What if...Nah.

duckythescientist (author)2009-07-10

If you are not consuming the shot, could isopropyl alcohol be substituted for the ethanol?

Never mind... I just answered my question with more research! It will work; I just won't drink it (I'm underage anyway).

ElectricUmbrella (author)2009-04-12

Very, very intresting! Nicely done! You mentioned staining it - how?

Nebraska G (author)2009-03-30

That's what I was wondering! Is there anyway to safely keep the genetic material overnight and then transport it to school for more scrutiny?

About This Instructable




Bio: I am passionate about amateur biotechnology and more generally what is called Citizen Science. After graduating with a degree in Biology from Davidson College, I ... More »
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