Frequently Asked Questions

General Questions

What is Bento Lab?

Bento Lab is the first portable all-in-one DNA workstation, suitable for applications from professional research to education.

Bento Lab combines a mini-centrifuge (8k ×g)*, a 32-well PCR thermocycler, and a gel electrophoresis box and power supply with blue LED transillumination.

Bento Lab can be easily transported, set up, and packed away wherever you need to use it. It weighs only 3.5 kg; it’s small enough to fit into a laptop bag; and it has the the lab bench footprint of a large laptop.

*Rated maximum relative centrifugal force (RCF) for Bento Lab Pro — suitable for use with spin column DNA extraction and purification kits. Maximum RCF for Bento Lab Entry is 2.7k ×g — suitable for spinning down tubes and pelleting tissues.

Is Bento Lab for academic research or for education?

Bento Lab is geared towards all uses of conventional PCR, from professional research, science education, and amateur research. 

Our customers use Bento Lab for everything from preparing samples for nanopore sequencing in the field, to running science outreach activities on the go, to DNA barcoding biodiversity.

Does Bento Lab ship internationally?

Yes, Bento Lab ships directly worldwide from the UK.

To find out more, have a look at our Order FAQ.

Can I use standard consumables with Bento Lab?

Yes, Bento Lab works with standard reagents and consumables, from 0.2mL PCR tubes to 1.5mL microcentrifuge tubes. With 32 wells, Bento Lab can accommodate four 8-tube strips for easier sample prep and PCR. Smaller PCR microplates (12–well, 24–well, or 32–well) should also be compatible.

What else will I need to buy to do PCR workflows?

The items that you will need to do PCR workflows will vary depending on your exact application. For standard PCR applications you will need micropipettes, appropriate pipette tips and tubes, PCR reagents, primers, agarose, distilled water, an electrophoresis buffer, a DNA stain, and gloves. You will also need a heat source for melting agarose, such as a microwave (recommended) or a camping stove or rice cooker.

Please consult our First Time Buyers’ Guide for more information on what you may need in addition to Bento Lab.

Do I need the Biotechnology 101 Starter Kit?

The Biotechnology 101 Starter Kit is our educational genetics kit. If you have a background in molecular biology then you will be familiar with most of what it covers, so just get started with Bento Lab and its manual.

For first-timers looking for an introduction to genetics, you can add a Biotechnology 101 Starter Kit to your Bento Lab, which provides everything you need to start learning about molecular biology and genetics hands-on. Beginners may find it useful to read through its introductory sections on core lab skills even if they do not buy the kit.

Technical Capacity

How does Bento Lab’s performance compare to traditional thermocyclers?

Bento Lab is designed to match or exceed the performance of traditional thermocyclers, and has been validated against standard devices.

Temperature is controlled using industry-standard peltier modules for high accuracy and speed. The Bento Lab peltier modules are specifically designed for robustness in thermocycling applications. For accurate temperature measurements, Bento Lab uses platinum resistance thermometers — the gold standard in temperature accuracy and reliability.

From the start, Bento Lab has been rigorously tested by our team of molecular biologists, research partners and independent testing houses. Bento Lab’s performance has been independently verified by scientists at world-leading research universities, institutes and commercial labs internationally for a broad variety of applications.

What’s the difference between Bento Lab Pro and Bento Lab Entry?

Bento Lab Pro is our premium model aimed at researchers and advanced users. It features a thermocycler with a temperature range of 12–102 °C, an adjustable mini-centrifuge (max RCF of 8k ×g) that can accommodate 2 mL tubes and spin columns, and an adjustable voltage gel electrophoresis unit (30 V – 120 V). 

Bento Lab Entry is our budget model aimed at beginners. It features a temperature range of 21–99 °C, lacks touchdown PCR capability, has a fixed speed mini-centrifuge (RCF of 2.7k ×g) suitable for 1.5 mL tubes, and a fixed voltage gel electrophoresis unit (50 V).

The two models are otherwise the same.

You can find a feature-by-feature comparison, and advice on which model is best for you, on the Bento Lab product page.

What applications are suitable for Bento Lab?

Our users are integrating Bento Lab into workflows from environmental research, to microbiome studies, to pre-diagnostic sampling with Oxford Nanopore MinION sequencing.

You can check out some case studies of how Bento Lab has been used on our Stories page.

Is Bento Lab compatible with my country’s electricity grid and electricity sockets?

Bento Lab comes with a universal power adapter. You can use the lab internationally, with any national power supply grid, with a travel plug adaptor or by exchanging the plug cable for a standard plug cable.

We offer several options of plug types: A (USA and others), G (UK and others), F (Europe), and I (Oceania). Standard travel plug adaptors can be used with other plug socket types. You can find your local standard plug type here:

How many samples can be processed in one workflow with Bento Lab?

DNA extraction, PCR, and agarose gel visualisation of up to 30 samples (plus a positive and negative control) can be achieved with a single heat-lysis DNA extraction, a single PCR program, and two double-lane agarose gels run consecutively using the Add-A-Lane comb (bought separately).

However, the number of samples that can be processed from sample to PCR to agarose gel visualisation in a single batch will depend on your exact workflow.

If your DNA extraction requires a centrifuge step using Bento Lab’s 6 × 2 mL tube mini-centrifuge (for example using spin-column DNA extraction kits, or DNA precipitation) then your throughput will be limited by the capacity of this unit.

If your gel electrophoresis visualisation requires a single 12–lane gel for better band resolution (for example for the differentiation of very similarly sized amplicon bands) then this will limit your capacity to eight samples per gel (plus a positive and negative control, and two DNA ladders) and may require additional gels to visualise all of your samples.

Can I run different components of Bento Lab at the same time?

Multiple units of Bento Lab can be run simultaneously but they may be be limited in speed or voltage due to power supply limitations.

  • If the thermocycler and electrophoresis/transillumination units are running simultaneously then the centrifuge will be limited to a fixed speed spin down mode.
  • If the centrifuge is running first then only one additional unit (thermocycler or electrophoresis unit) will operate, and the other will be locked.
  • The blue light transilluminator will operate even when other units are operating.

Is Bento Lab robust enough for remote fieldwork?

Our customers have successfully used Bento Lab for fieldwork in many countries and improvised lab settings globally.

However, despite being designed for portability, Bento Lab should be handled with the same care as a laptop. It is not waterproof or drop-proof. 

We recommend protecting Bento Lab during fieldwork with a travel case, or an appropriately padded box or bag, to prevent risk of damage.

Can Bento Lab be used off-grid using a battery or generator?

Bento Lab can be powered by a battery or generator when off-grid. You will need a power source with:

  • A compatible plug socket or adaptor plug (depending on the Bento Lab configuration)
  • An output with AC mains plug (110V – 240V AC)
  • A minimum power rating of 140W. 
  • Sufficient power (Wh) to complete your desired workflows.

You can find out more in our blog post here.

Can Bento Lab be used during fieldwork without taking a microwave to cast agarose gels?

During fieldwork, heat sources such as a camping gas stove or rice cooker can be used to melt agarose to allow the casting of agarose gels.

Alternatively, Bento Lab can be used to power E-gels as a non-standard application (at your own risk) using crocodile clips, and blue light compatible E-Gels can be visualised using Bento Lab’s blue light transilluminator.

Precast gels can also be used, either home-made or commercially bought. Precast gels should be 7 cm x 7 cm to allow them to fit into Bento Lab’s gel tank.

You can read more about how to use Bento Lab without a microwave here.

Can I use precast gels or the E-Gel system with Bento Lab?

Bento Lab could be used with bought precast gels, provided they are compatible with blue light transillumination and are small enough to be run in the Bento Lab electrophoresis tank (7 x 7 cm).

Unfortunately we are not currently aware of any suppliers for suitable sized gels, but larger gels could potentially be cut down to size. You could also consider precasting your own gels in advance of fieldwork.

It is possible to use Bento Lab with E-Gels, although this is a non-standard application and is done at your own risk. One of our users has adapted the E-Gel Precast Gel system to work with Bento Lab. We’ve also produced a blog post on possible approaches to using precast gels, E-Gels, and casting gels during fieldwork without using a microwave.

Do I need a dark room to visualise agarose gels with Bento Lab?

No — agarose gels produced and visualised with Bento Lab can be viewed under normal lighting conditions using Bento Lab’s gel imaging hood (included with each Bento Lab, and replacement or spare hoods can be bought from our store).

Gels are best visualised by photographing the gel using a smart phone or compact camera, and then examining the photograph image, because of the small diameter of the gel imaging hood orange filter. Photographing also produces a permanent record of the gel; allows closer examination of the gel by zooming into the image; and allows annotation of the gel for future reference.

Visualisation in a darker room can improve the visibility and contrast of very faint amplicon bands by preventing incidental light entering the dark box.

A darker room is recommended for good visualisation of gels when not using a gel imaging hood or a similar apparatus, using the orange gel tank lid as a filter.

Which DNA stains are compatible with Bento Lab?

Avoid UV damage and visualise DNA safely with Bento Lab’s blue light transilluminator, using green fluorescent nucleic acid dyes designed for blue-light excitation.

Our favourite DNA stain is GelGreen® because of its sensitivity and safety features.

Bento Lab is also compatible with a wide range of dyes including GreenView, SYBR Green, and SYBR Safe.


How do I get support with a technical issue?

If you have a question outside the scope of our manual, please feel free to contact us via our website, or schedule a 20 minute call with our technical team. We will help you diagnose the problem and find a solution.

If you have an urgent issue, please get in touch immediately with as much information on the problem as possible (photographs and videos are very helpful), and we will do our best to resolve it as quickly as possible.

What is the Bento Lab warranty? How long is the warranty period?

All Bento Lab products are backed by the Bento Lab Limited Warranty, which covers defects in materials and workmanship for a period of 12 months. You can also buy an extended warranty of two or four years at the point of purchase. Check our Terms and Conditions for more information.

Do you provide out of warranty repairs?

If you have any technical issues with Bento Lab outside of your warranty period, please get in touch immediately and we can discuss the costs of any repairs that may be needed.

Do you have a list of spare parts?

You can buy some upgrade, spare, or replacement items directly from our store:

If you need or would like any additional spares or accessories for Bento Lab to support your work, please get in touch.

Not found the answer you were looking for?

If we did not answer your question, please contact us directly.