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I am traveling from Fairbanks, Alaska to Vienna, Austria in six weeks and need to bring 10 very small (~50 ul) samples of extracted arctic ground squirrel DNA with me.

I need to travel with these on dry ice in a little carry-on cooler.

Has anyone flown with DNA samples? Any advice on how to go about it? Questions to ask customs?

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    Is this part of an organized research project that you can provide documentation for? – Columbia says Reinstate Monica Oct 24 '17 at 22:00
  • what is extracted DNA? – Fattie Oct 24 '17 at 22:39
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    @Fattie there is a process by which cell samples undergo a purification routine during which cells are broken down, and then separated into constituent parts, one of which is DNA molecules. These DNA molecules are then dissolved in a pure carrier liquid ready for transport or use. – Moo Oct 25 '17 at 6:42
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    You should contact your airline, and your university (other colleague for sure did something like that). – Giacomo Catenazzi Oct 25 '17 at 9:19
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    I suggest you try biology SE for this, as it is more likely to have people who had this problem before. Otherwise... I have not done it. We figured (once) that it is easier and safer to ship the DNA separately from the person. There is no guarantee that the crew will allow the dry ice on board and other problems with handling could occur. There are companies who specialize in fuzz free transport of this type though and they will take all the problems from you. – skymningen Oct 25 '17 at 12:03
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The exact answer will depend on which countries you're travelling through - I'm going to presume you're flying domestically within the US (AK to somewhere in the lower 48) and then onto Austria directly...

First the Dry Ice :

There are 3 places that you will need to worry about - firstly security, then the relevant airline authorities, and finally the airline(s).

Within the US, TSA DOES allow dry ice in both carry-on and check-in luggage - up to the FAA mandated limits.

The US FAA also allows dry ice, up to 5.5 lbs (2.5 kg), with specific rules around how it is packaged.

Each airline will have their own requirements/regulation, so you'll need to check with whichever airline you are flying with to be sure. To pick one at random, United Airlines does allow dry ice, with the same 5.5 lbs limit the FAA allows, however with the added condition that it must be packed in a hard-sided ventilated container.

There are also generally restrictions on the maximum amount of dry ice that can be loaded onto a single aircraft, so most airlines will require you to declare that you have it, and give an approximate quantity when checking in.

As for the DNA samples themselves, some countries do have restrictions around importing organic materials. I would suggest contacting customs in Austria (and any other countries you are transiting through) to confirm that there is no additional paperwork required.

  • right - I don't know if "DNA molecules" even count as "organic". – Fattie Oct 25 '17 at 9:40

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