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I shipped 10 µL of my vector miniprep to a collaborator in a 1.5 mL eppendorf parafilmed shut and stuffed into a 50 mL conical with some paper-towel padding. However, something happened on the way and there was nothing (no liquid) in the tube when it arrived. They didn't make any comments about the microcentrifuge tube popping open or broken parafilm, so nothing crazy happened but something did.

What's the most reliable way to ship plasmids?

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up vote 11 down vote accepted


  • the 10 uL of plasmid miniprep may have been splattered in the cap of the tube (AnnaF)
  • the eppendorf tube may have depressurized during air shipment and allowed the 10 uL to escape and evaporate
  • solution: try air-drying or blotting (Jonas) your minipreps prior to air shipment


As AnnaF wrote, the 10 uL of your plasmid could have been hidden in the cap or dispersed around the tube, making appear empty. You should check with your collaborators to be sure they centrifuged it.

According to a fedex document on shipping perishables (pdf) and a paper measuring the temp and pressure of air shipments (pdf), fedex and ups air shipments may experience low pressure environments around 0.56 - 0.74 atmospheres (atm). At these relatively low pressures, perhaps an eppendorf tube sealed at 1 atm might breach. The papers also note that ground shipments that pass over the rockies (i.e. in Colorado) may experience ~ 0.64 atm.

So perhaps your 1.5 ml eppendorf tube depressurized during the shipment?

It would be interesting to do some tests on the pressure-worthiness of eppendorf tubes.

Regarding the original question, in 2007 I prepared and shipped (fedex) a library of thousands of minipreps to hundreds of users. 1uL of miniprep was dispensed into wells of 384-well plates and airdried, then sealed with aluminum, then mailed. Users rehydrate a well with 10 uL of water. Generally it works.

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A quite safe way of shipping plasmids is to put them on filter paper (see protocol and send a letter. Much cheaper.

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+1 Fast, easy and very stable even for overseas shipments. – Aleadam Dec 19 '11 at 2:51
Plus, customs are much less fussy about a piece of paper than they are about anything liquid. – nico Dec 21 '11 at 22:32
This is the best way to go. You can also wrap the filter paper in a bit of cling wrap just in case. – user560 Jan 14 '13 at 17:45

Did they try to centrifuge the tube when it got there to push all the liquid to the bottom? I know that especially when working with such little amounts that even shaking it up a little can disperse the contents all over the tube. We have received plasmids from other labs before. Generally speaking the plasmids are sent in Screw-cap microcentrifuge tubes inside of some sort of canister. This is then packaged in a little foam cooler with dry ice to keep everything cold.

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Since tubes can be crushed in the mail, the safest way to ship plasmids is to drip a few uL into a filter paper, and then wrap it up to seal it with parafilm, and fill out a detailed form about its content.

Good luck.

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For future reference it is possible to use the correct mu symbol as a prefix (µL) rather than having to use uL =) – Rory M Dec 21 '11 at 22:26

We have gotten into similar situations when other labs have sent us plasmids (or when we have taken out ancient tubes out from storage boxes at -20), and have since adopted the filter paper method. Another point to note is that you can just add, say, 10 μL of water to the "empty" tube (Mac) and use 1 μL for a transformation. It has always worked for us. DNA is seemingly invisible!

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I will also strongly recommend blotting a microgram of your plasmid DNA on a piece of filter paper (the filter paper is important for extraction on the receiving end). Also, it is very very helpful if you clearly indicate the amount of DNA (approximately) and circle the blotted DNA in pen so there is no ambiguity about cutting out the circle of filter paper containing the DNA.

On the receiving end, you should always freeze the paper right away or elute the DNA off of the paper in TE buffer or water and then freeze. Failure to do so will eventually lead to DNAase degradation of the plasmid DNA and then you'll have to wait for another shipment.

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