Electrophoresis is conducted in a sievelike supporting matrix, such as filter paper, cellulose acetate membrane, or, more commonly, a gel. Gels are made primarily of starch, agarose, or polyacrylamide. Starch and agarose are carbohydrates. Gel electrophoresis typically uses agarose, a purified form of agar-agar, extracted from seaweeds (marine red algae). Agarose gels have large pores, which allow large molecules to pass through.
Polyacrylamide is a synthetic polymer made of acrylamide and bisacrylamide. Acrylamide is a suspected human carcinogen (cancer-causing agent) and a potent neurotoxin (a compound that causes damage to the brain). Extreme caution is therefore required when handling polyacrylamide or its components. Polyacrylamide gels have smaller pores than agarose, therefore allowing only small molecules to pass through.
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