Chemical Safety

Ethidium Bromide (EtBr) Alternatives

Ethidium bromide, long used as an inexpensive, sensitive, and stable dye for staining nucleic acids, is a potent mutagen, possible carcinogen and reproductive toxin with significant health risks for researchers. Its waste stream is cumbersome, time consuming and expensive.

EH&S strongly encourages researchers to use alternative DNA dyes and phase out ethidium bromide.

UCSD approved EtBr alternative DNA dyes

  • SYBR® Nucleic Acid Stains
  • EZ-Vision®
  • GelRedTM & GelGreenTM

Benefits of switching to EtBr alternative DNA dyes

Eliminate multiple EtBr waste stream containers (gel, solid, liquid)
Using EtBr alternatives will significantly simplify your waste process, reduce hazardous waste costs, and help make UCSD a safe and more sustainable campus. 

Eliminate the use of a potent mutagen and possible carcinogen and reproductive toxin
Using EtBr alternatives, which are non-cytotoxic and non-mutagenic, are considered to be safe for both the user and the environment.

Eliminate the need to create an EtBr HCP (Hazard Control Plan)
Using EtBr alternatives frees up valuable research time. It eliminates the need to write an EtBr HCP and time spent working in your faculty’s CHUA (Chemical Hazard Use Application).

Waste streams of EtBr alternative DNA dyes

Note: The waste stream outlined below applies to EtBr alternatives ONLY. All EtBr waste (solid, gel, liquid) MUST be disposed of as hazardous waste through EH&S.

Any solid waste generated from the use of these dyes can be safely disposed in the municipal trash.

The disposal of your liquid waste will depend on the type of buffer you use, the concentration of your buffer and the concentration of your dyes. Use the chart below to help you properly dispose of liquid waste from EtBr alternative dyes gel assays.

A diagram illustrating proper ebtr disposal: 1xTAE, 0.5x TBD buffers go to sewer disposal. >1x TAE or >0.5x TBE buffers are collected as hazardous waste and picked up by EH&S

Also, keep in mind any unused kits and concentrated reagents (pre-dilution) are still to be managed as hazardous waste as well.

For more information on proper disposal, contact the EH&S Environmental Management Facility, (858) 53 4-2753.

CDC Article: “Alternate DNA Stains – Results and Recommendations”

Freeman, Molly. “PulseNet: Under the Microscope Volume 2, Alternate DNA Stains: Results and Recommendations”. PulseNet International.

Paper Summary: The images below are part of a CDC PulseNet study to evaluate the cost-effectiveness and resolution of multiple DNA dyes. A 15 well gel containing H9812, a Salmonella enterica standard, was stained for 30 minutes with an individual dye. The alternative dyes were immediately visualized, while the EtBr gel was de-stained with water. The gels were evaluated for stability on days 1, 2, and 7 after staining.

SYBR Safe stain

SYBR Safe stain

EtBr stain

EtBr stain

SYBR Gold stain

SYBR Gold stain

GelRed stain

GelRed stain

Questions or concerns? Contact your Division Safety Officer at or (858)53 4-5017.

Research Safety Programs