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Weekly news

September 5, 2014

Cat Ferguson

Welcome to the last days of summer, everybody! Let’s all put away our white pants, pour a whiskey, and get ready for fall. Here’s the news!

Hello world: Duquesne will open a community lab this fall

Discussion 

Pittsburgh’s first community lab is opening soon. The wet lab and other resources will be available to students of the school, as well as middle and high schoolers; local businesses will also be able to take advantage. Building begins right about now.

The school is partnering with Urban Innovation 21, a group that supports economic development in Pittsburgh, to build the lab.

 

 Food hacking at German hacker party

Discussion

Every year, the Chaos Computer Club in Hamburg, Germany, throws a four-day party between Christmas and New Years. This year, DIYBio-er Frantisek Apfelbeck is organizing a small bio lab to do food and drink experiments as part of the Food Hacking Base Group. If you’re interested, drop him a line here.  

Deadline for submissions is Sept 14, so get in touch before then!

3D printing survey

Discussion

The Peer to Peer Foundation is conducting a survey among communities that use 3D printing. The data will be open source (though your answers will be anonymous) so if you’re interested head right this way. Should take you about five minutes.

 

“Is BioGlow being realistic?”

Discussion

Idealistic glowing plant start-up BioGlow has big plans, including replacing some types of lighting with bioluminescent plants. Some tech writers say that the numbers don’t add up to that being a feasible plan. The DIYBio listserv discussed the possibilities this week, and seem to have left off with a ¯_(ツ)_/¯

Have your own opinion? Send it to the list!

Vote for LA Biohackers to win a $100,000 giveaway!

Discussion

LA Biohackers are in the running for a grant from the Goldhirsh Foundation. You can vote for them here; they’re looking to get a new space, new equipment, and expand their class offerings. You’ll have to sign up, but there’s no money involved on your end!

Here’s a quote from their grant application:

While kids of the past may have tinkered with Lego or Erector Set, kids of today tinker with electronics. As a result of the miniaturization and decreasing cost of manufacturing, electronics today are more accessible to people of all ages than ever before. Kids at the LA Makerspace (and makerspaces around the world) build robots, design and solder their own electronics, and program computers as a form of entertainment.

Biotech is currently undergoing the same revolution in price and accessibility. While practicing biotech as a hobby is not quite as affordable as electronics, progress is being made and lots of young people are getting involved. We envision a future where kids in LA are just as likely to pick up a pipette as they are a soldering iron. Playing with biology will be as common place as playing with electronics.

LA Biohackers will make this dream a reality before 2050 by getting young people access to laboratory space and advanced biotech equipment in addition to knowledge and guidance. We are currently making this happen but with help we can expand our breadth and scope to include more people of all ages.

Biohackers in the Economist

Discussion

The Economist, always at the forefront of news and views, has written an article excitedly noting the existence of DIYBio. They’ve tapped some favorites – Ellen Jorgensen, Markus Schmidt, Rob Carlson, and our very own Jason Bobe all get a word in edgewise.

News you can use

August 15, 2014

Cat Ferguson

Hi everybody! Hope you’re enjoying the dog days of summer.

Photo via Panoramio

Croatian hacker sleep-away camp

Discussion

Croatian hackerspace Zagreb Makerspace is throwing a sleepaway camp in Deringaj – take a look at the map here, there’s a castle (pictured right) and a river, it looks gorgeous! If you’re in Croatia between August 19 and 24, you should absolutely go and report back.

From Deborah Hustic, who you can email for details here:

If anyone is having currently a trip or holidays on the Croatian coast, pls, stop-by, you need a tent, sleeping bad, maybe a solar shower, but there is a river near, and some combination of clothing for hot days and slightly coldish nights. For food we organized a kiosk / mini bar with BIO food with prices around 5, 6 euros for full lunch and cheaper snacks.

White paper stirs up the list

Discussion

Some biohackers at Camp Pixelache in Helinski had a long chat about creative commons as it applies to biology, and write a white paper about it. You can read the abstract here, and the rest is on GitHub.

Over the past few days there’s been a pretty intense discussion about it, so if you have anything to say, head on over and join the party.

Reminder about Ask a Biosafety Expert

Our inbox at ABSE is looking a little quiet, so here’s a reminder: any pressing questions you have about lab safety, please drop us a line!

That’s it everybody – I’m off to the mountains for the weekend, but I’ll see you in a few days!

 

Weekly news

August 7, 2014

Cat Ferguson

Hi everybody – sorry to say, but we’re starting off on a sad note this week.

Stem cell researcher commits suicide

Discussion

Japanese researcher Yoshiki Sasai hung himself on Tuesday, a few months after two papers he supervised were retracted from Nature. The two papers claimed that dipping cells in acid for half an hour would revert them to stem cells. Many labs, including biohacker labs, tried the method and failed to recreate the results. The journal took note and pulled the papers. Though Sasai was cleared of misconduct by his school, his suicide note indicated he felt responsible for the work he supervised.

Retraction Watch has a meditation on media coverage surrounding retractions, and what it means for scientists on a personal level, if you’re interested in reading more.

NIH runs a 3D printing exchange

Discussion

The National Institutes for Health runs a database of 3D printing designs, including art, educational models, and lab gear. The site also boasts a section full of tutorials to help people learn about the technology, and a discussion forum, to encourage conversations with users (although not a lot of people have taken them up on that yet).

The other major database of 3D models, Thingverse, is much larger, but doesn’t have the same focus on biology.

DARPA is funding synbio research

Discussion

The defense agency has an odd relationship with hackers, awarding grants to hackerspaces and other non-academic groups. DARPA has just announced it will be funding synthetic bio research as part of its Biological Robustness in Complex Settings program. However, it’s unclear if the program will apply to independent researchers or community labs.

DIYBio works pretty well with the government, including holding joint meetings with the FBI.  So it might be nice for biohackers to get a little green from the Man. If you look into this further, let us know what you find out.

 

Get in touch via Twitter or email with anything you hope I’ll cover next week. See you soon!

News round-up

July 30, 2014

Cat Ferguson

DIY atomic force microscope via Instructables

It’s that time again! Light news week. Get in touch via Twitter or email if you’ve got news, opinions, or just a link to pictures of sad dogs who ate bees.

Meetup in Cincinnati

Discussion

Time: Tuesday August 5th at 8 PM.

Location: Hive13, 2929 Spring Grove Ave

Topic: They don’t have a space yet, but they want to throw around ideas for projects, funding, space, etc. Join them or give some advice!

And keep an ear out for a possible meetup in Linz, Austria, also in August.

Nanomicrobiology

Discussion

People had a lot of fun talking about this, including how to build a DIY atomic force microscope. That’s used for high-resolution images of microbial surfaces. If you’re interested, check out the Google Group discussion for a whole bunch of papers and people to chat up about the technology.

Bonus: in Pittsburgh? Get on T.V.!

A T.V. producer solicited the list looking for Pittsburgh biohackers, so give her a shout if you’re in the area and feeling chatty.

 

 

Hump day news

July 23, 2014

Cat Ferguson

Photo via Wikimedia

Hi folks! Happy Wednesday. Hope you’re ready for some DIYBio news, because I’ve got two weeks worth – I was away at the ostrich races.

Make assay plates from bubble wrap

Discussion

Sick of spending cash on assay plates just to throw them away after one use? A Harvard scientist has figured out a way to turn everyone’s favorite packing material into sterile wells using clear nail polish and a syringe. Since the insides of the bubbles are sterile, scientists inject the materials and paint over the hole with a little nail hardener as sealant.

From the New Scientist article:

The team successfully ran blood tests for anaemia and diabetes, cultured the common food-borne bacteria Escherichia coli and raised the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, which is widely used as a model organism in biology experiments.

Cheap and easy, it’s perfect for DIYBio. Just save me some to pop.

Space plants out of Genspace?

Discussion

Genspace scientist Yuriy Fazylov is running a crowd-funding campaign on experiment.com, trying to raise money to make plants that could survive the radiation bombardment in space.

Using genes from fungi that create pigments to block radiation, Fazylov hopes to create plants that could colonize a spaceship – or, closer to home, a radiation-heavy place like Chernobyl.

Open-source automation bot launches

Discussion

The OpenTrons team is building robots to make your science easier. It just launched a new one: BioBot 1.0, a liquid handling robot to save your pipetting hand some work and ensure accuracy. It hooks up to your hand pipette. Watch the video here:

From team member Will Canine:

We are hosting the BOM, control app, assembly instructions, and getting-started guide on Synbiota: Check out how you can make one yourself for under $2000USD!

Hardware: All the parts for a DIY BioBot are off the shelf (buy them from OpenBuilds or Inventables, etc) or 3D printed (print in ABS — stronger than PLA and autoclavable), so you can make it all yourself. You use your own hand micropipette for the liquid handling — with most pipette brands, every size, any number of channels will fit in the BioBot with minimal modification.

Electronics: BioBot uses the TinyG motor controller, an awesome piece of tech from Syntheos, to run the robot’s six stepper motors.

Software: We are using Cordova for this BETA version of the OpenTrons control app: HTML5 interface on top of an Android plug-in sends the TinyG motor controller JSON wrapped g-code over Bluetooth serial. The source code is right here.

Get in touch with the OpenTrons team for more information.

DIYBio meetup in Boston

Discussion

Student Joshua Elkington is disappointed in you, Boston. He’s hosting a meetup at Harvard on August 16, from 2-4 p.m. to discuss “current trends, emerging tech, and future directions.” So if you’re in the neighborhood, give him a shout!

Chemical calligraphy

Discussion

Molecular structures can be elegant, but it’s hard to make them beautiful with traditional methods of drawing. Pen and paper hacker Matthew DeBlock has come up with a more artistic alphabet to describe the building blocks of our world.

Screen Shot 2014-07-23 at 2.51.16 PMTake a look at the how-to here, and let me know if this stroke of genius works for you.

 

 

 

That’s all for this week! As usual, email or tweet me with your news and views.

Weekly news

July 8, 2014

Cat Ferguson

Happy fourth of July from New York! I hope all you Americans had some good grilled meat or vegan equivalents, and you non-Americans didn’t get too jealous of our fireworks displays.

DNA synthesizer tear-down

Discussion

Long-time list member Nathan McCorkle ripped appart a 1989 Applied Biosystems PCR machine, so you don’t have to. Here’s a link to the step-by-step unveiling of the innards. If you happen to have one of your own and you’re looking for some advice, you can always consult the user manual – or just email the list, seems like there’s plenty of people who love old bio- gadgetry.

Hello world: UK hackerspace sends out feelers RE DIYBio

Discussion

Up-and-coming hackerspace the Dorset Constructororium, in south-east Dorset, has set up camp in a garage, and they’re looking to expand. Once they’ve got a bigger place, they’re hoping to get involved with DIYBio projects – if you’re in the neighborhood, you should say hello!

“Bio-tinkering” internship in Amsterdam

Discussion

From Pieter van Boheemen:

At Waag Society’s Open Wetlab we are looking for an intern to research our Biotinkering activities. If you are a student, this is an unique opportunity to combine your studies and DIYBio!

Informed by the principles of participatory mediated informal knowledge communities (Jenkins et al. 2006, Schäfer 2011, Resnick & Rosenbaum 2013) one of our lab’s goals is to perpetuate literate DIY-Biologists by teaching the required skills and critical thought. Social scientists that studied our activities, such as the “Do-It-Together Bio” events and “Open Wetlab = Open” evenings, brought to light the need for facilitated Biotinkering as an intermediary stage between the former fully guided workshops and the latter completely open ended events.

The ideal candidate has an interest in the concepts of tinkering, learning-by-making, the field of bio art and bio design, Do-It-Yourself Biology and/or citizen science and wants to gain experience in micromobilisation, participatory culture, communication and user framing. Using Waag Society’s “Users as Designers” methodology you will conduct creative action research that will include hands-on workshops and informal mentorship of lab users.

More information can be found on http://waag.org/en/job/internship-biotinkering-open-wetlab

There is also a second open internship position in a project concerning open drug discovery and antibiotics. A full description can be found here: http://waag.org/en/job/open-antibiotics-internship-open-wetlab

Interns are paid 300 Euro a month. For more information, or to apply, email Pieter here.

 

Now or any time, email or tweet me with good news or bad; just please don’t forget me, like a vial of smallpox in the back of a fridge.

News round-up

July 1, 2014

Cat Ferguson

Hi everybody! Lovely to see you, as always. Let’s find out what’s happening this week!

Biohackers get in on the iGEM action

Discussion

From the indefatigable Patrik D’haeseleer, out of Counter Culture Labs in the East Bay, comes news of a joint CCL-BioCurious iGEM team. As you may know, this is the first year that non-academic biohackers have been allowed to participate in the competition, so we’re all eagerly awaiting what happens next!

Their project: turning baker’s yeast into a halfway decent vegan cheese. I don’t know if you’ve ever had what passes for vegan cheese these days, but let’s just say it could use an overhaul. To contribute to their IndieGoGo campaign, head right this way.

Here’s their video:

Check back in October for news of the iGEM competition! And if you want to know more about the vegan cheese project, you can email them here.

DIYBio in the press

Discussion

We’re getting some good coverage over at the Biologist, a British publication put out by the Society of Biology. Both our humble website and our Google Group get a shout-out, so excuse me while I preen a little. Plus, they describe you guys as both “impressively ambitious” and “wonderfully bonkers,” which is how I feel, too.

More to the point, they tap Genspace, London Hackspace, and bioartist Heather Dewey-Hagborg to serve as representatives of the community, and give a pretty good sense of the breadth of the community. Is a pretty good read, so check it out.

 

As always, email or tweet me with news you want to see here. And head right this way to see a man who’s gaze can cure your ills (and is harmful to pregnant women!).

Tuesday news, just under the wire

June 24, 2014

Cat Ferguson

It’s still technically Tuesday, which means it’s time for a weekly recap! Not much going on this week; email or tweet me with any news you’ve got.

Hello world: first DIYBio space in South America

Discussion

Synthetic Biotechnology Research, or syntechbio, introduced itself to the list this week. They’re working on a bunch of projects, including one called Hibrida. Their description:

Our first project explores the development of reality enhancers. Lets enhance our human capacities and become superheroes, enhance our vision capacity, our listening skills. We are going to prototype open source electrical equipment to do all this and explore the plasticity of the biological material to expand our interaction with the environment.

The group has already finished several projects on genomics. They manage the São Paulo University iGEM team, and have a diverse range of interests, from nanotech to astrobiology. I’m looking forward to seeing what they do next!

A reminder - if you’re looking for a local group, we’ve got just the place for you. Head over to our list of locals. And if you want to be listed on there, shoot the group an email!

Dutch report on DIYBio in the Netherlands

Discussion

It’s all in Dutch, which I don’t speak, so I’ll let Dutch citizen scientist Pieter van Boheemen explain the report:

The report consists of a characterization of DIYBio along four quadrants: hobbyism, activism, art and science. It’s based on interviews, a workshop and literature research. Next, it describes the tools, methods and materials; biosafety and biosecurity; and attempts to characterize the (future) social implications of the movement.

The chairman of the advisory committee has send the report to the State Secretary for Infrastructure and the Environment. In his letter he basically states that DIYBio has the potential to contribute to education and bridging the gap between science and society. He says it serves as an inspiration for innovation. He finds the likelihood of biosecurity issues small. He asks the government to provide easy accessible information on GMO regulations and biosafety guidelines to prevent accidents, referring to the “ask a biosafey expert” service in the USA.

To keep the tradition of weird animal links alive, here is a bear climbing a rock wall like a boss.

Double trouble: two week news round-up

June 17, 2014

Cat Ferguson

Hi guys! I am traveling across the country with my dog in tow, so you’ll have to excuse my quirky schedule. To make up for it, here’s what a guinea pig looks like when you shave it.

Freeze your teeth, live forever

Discussion

The pulp from the middle of your teeth is rich in stem cells. According to intrepid DIYBio-er Andreas Stuermer, aka Mega, neither in-vitro fertilization banks nor the Red Cross will freeze your wisdom teeth, should you decide to try and preserve the stem cells. However, if you can convince your dentist to save them, and stomach carrying home what I can only imagine would be a pretty gross-looking biohazard bag, Transcriptic will freeze them in -80 degrees C for $10.80/year each. How viable will they be?  In dogs, at least, if you harvest the stem cells from pulp and inject them into a hollowed-out tooth, they’ll fill the tooth back in with viable tissue, including blood vessels and nerves. No word on how well they survive a deep-freeze, though.

June events at Boston Open Source Science Lab

Discussion

The lovely and over-achieving Avery Louie hosted Biotech 101 and Arduino-for-bio nerds at weirdo collective Sprout, in Somerville Mass., last week and this week. If you’re just hearing about this now, you’ve missed out on the biotech crash-course, but you can get an Arduino education for a couple more days – for more info, email Avery at inactive.e(at)gmail.com. And keep your eyes peeled for more events coming soon!

Free biosafety advice kits available to community labs

Discussion

From Jason Bobe, all-knowing founder of DIYBio.org:

We are offering a free biosafety advice kits for community labs based in the United States. Each kit includes a poster and a magnet featuring awesome artwork by the llustrator Himanshu Sharma (http://www.gohemu.com/), as well as a printed copy of a recent report about the DIYbio community (Here is a PDF of 7 myths & realities).

Here is a pic:

yes, please, ask

 

Want a kit? Please follow the link below and give us some info and we’ll ship you a kit. 1 kit per community lab. Don’t belong to a community lab, but still want a kit? Outside the U.S.? Stay tuned, we plan to make these available to individual practitioners and international folks at a later time.

Sign-up here.

Go forth and be safe!

Crowd-funded plant science and a Reddit AMA

Discussion

Researchers are crowd-funding their project to sequence the genomes of a symbiotic plant/cynobacteria team. They talk about it on their Reddit AMA, too. Azolla, a family of ferns that live in water, tend to be super-invasive, because they grow fast and almost anywhere it’s reasonably warm. Rice farmers grow it along with their crop, because tucked away in the leaves is a nitrogen-fixing bacteria that makes the plant’s food for it. Knowing how the plant and bacteria work together could be beneficial for other food crops, possibly reducing reliance on artificial nitrogen fertilizer.

On their website, the researchers claim, “Because it is classified as a “lowly fern,” Azolla has been sidelined in plant genome studies. Repeated appeals to granting agencies for funding to unlock the know-how embodied by this superorganism have been met with responses like “too unconventional” or “too risky.”” Not the most auspicious start, but hey, lots of good science is considered kind of crazy in the beginning. Maybe the Power of the Crowd will save the world, after all.

How do you keep motivated?

Discussion

Whether you’re going through a quarter-life crisis or just getting bummed out by an experiment that you can’t make work, check out this discussion of what makes the DIYBio community tick, in good times and bad.

Cheap, open source bioreactor in the works

Discussion

Food Hacking Base in Hamburg, Germany is working on an easy to make, easy to use incubator for fermentation projects. If you’re interested in helping out, email Frantisek Algoldor Apfelbeck.

Hello world: DIYBio sets up shop in Paris

Discussion

French community lab La Paillasse just opened their new biohacking space in the center of Paris. The labs are in the basement, affectionately called the caves because they’re build from “ancient stone.” They’re averaging an event or meeting every other day, so if you’re lucky enough to be in the City of Lights you definitely want to check it out. And they’re crowd-funding to support the new space, so if you’ve got some change, drop it here.

Amplino selected for social-impact incubator

Discussion

Amplino, a startup that makes cheap, portable qPCR machines for lab diagnostics in poor areas, got tapped by Pricewaterhousecoopers for their Social Impact Lab. They’ll get money, space, and advice on turning their project into a profitable business.

KiloBaser, a new way to synthesize DNA?

Discussion

An Austrian group is working on a cheap, open source DNA synthesizer “based on microfluidic and magnetic technology.” Few details available, but they’ve got some social media links up:

FB: https://www.facebook.com/kilobaser.DNA.rapid.prototyping
Twitter: https://twitter.com/DNAPrototyper
Google: https://plus.google.com/109143331381566436146/posts

 

That’s it for this week, folks! Email or tweet me with whatever you want to see here next week.

And here’s a bonus-bonus: what does the width of a horse butt have to do with space ships? A whole lot! (Hat tip Avery Louie, of course.)

 

Newsy

June 3, 2014

Cat Ferguson

Hi team. It’s nice to see you again. I don’t have much of an intro for you, because it’s time to talk about…

Sexual harassment in biohacking

Discussion

There’s a discussion in the Google Group right now about a specific case of harassment at Biologigaragen. It was brought to us in great detail by the woman involved, and has sparked some interesting questions about how a non-hierarchical group mediates conflict, as well as a wider discussion about the issue. I think it’s a worthwhile conversation, and as a member of the community, I think you should read it, and maybe even participate.

Hackerspaces can be scary places for women. They can also be great places. Here’s a conversation with a bunch of women in a bunch of hackerspaces talking about their experiences – generally good, but with some frustrating instances of sexism. Hacking tends to be associated with the truly poisonous tech scene, but it doesn’t have to fall prey to that kind of misogyny. It’s really up to you, dear reader. What kind of world do you want to hack in?

Open Biomedical Initiative

Discussion

On a much more pleasant note, here’s a group making open source biomedical tools. First project is a cheap prosthetic limb using 3D printing. They’re looking for collaborators, so if you’re into that step right this way.

Living forever

Discussion

Since it might take a while to fix our broken world, let’s all live forever. I don’t really get the impulse, myself, because I have seen vampire movies and know how that works out. This discussion started two years ago, which is nothing to somebody who’s going to live to 400, and got revived again this week for some talk of collaboration between a couple of aspiring Methuselahs. Do with that as you wish.

DIYBio continues to spread

Discussion (UK midlands)

Discussion (Newcastle, UK)

Discussion (Catalonia)

There’s a couple of fledgeling biohackers seeking help on the list this week. If you’re in the area or have advice, shoot them an email!

Bioglow plant

Discussion pt 1

Discussion pt 2

Bioglow Tech is getting better at making plants glow. DIYBiologists have some questions about how it actually works (and if it’s any good), plus an explanation of how the Glowing Plant Project sidestepped Bioglow’s patent.

Craig Venter Institute talks regulations

Discussion

The JCVI has a new report out on synbio regulations in the US. They specifically call out DIYBio and discuss how commercial ventures coming out of a community lab would be regulated. The verdict on government oversight for synthetic biology: pretty good, although they need some updating to keep up with modern tech, and if things really blow up soon it might be tough for the EPA to keep track of everybody.

3D-printed micropipettes

Discussion

Here are two. Try them out and report back!

Got something to say? Email me, tweet me, or find me in my hammock, prepping for summer.

 

News you can use, week three

May 27, 2014

Cat Ferguson

Our microbiota, ourselves

Discussion

Most of us know by now that we’ve got ten times more microbial cells in our body than human cells. Those bugs, collectively known as a microbiome, play a major role in our biological processes, and not just digestion. Scientists are looking to the composition of the microbiome for answers about illness ranging from obesity to schizophrenia.

Naturally, DIYBiologists want to characterize the creepy crawlies in and on them. What’s the best way to do it? There are some homebrewed options in the discussion, but your best bet might be to go through the bacterial equivalent of 23andMe: startup uBiome will sequence the bugs in your nose, mouth, skin, genitals, and feces for $89 (sample FAQ: “Will my gut sample smell? Will the mail carrier get mad at me for stinking up the place?”). American Gut is a non-profit citizen science project doing the same thing, i.e. collecting thousands of bacterial samples from various orifices and comparing them. American Gut will run you $99, but you can also send in samples from pets.

Pocket IR spectrometer exists

Discussion

Massively over-funded Kickstarter + TechCrunch Disrupt demo + fancy iOS apps = a recipe for blog articles calling your toy/tool/pocket-sized object a “game changer.” So, here is a tiny IR spec, which shines an infrared light on an object and, based on how the light is absorbed, can give you pretty good sense of the molecular makeup of the sample. Early adopters will no doubt dedicate themselves towards scanning everything within arms’ reach and carefully inputting information to go along with the scan, building a database for the IR signatures of foods, pets, medicines, gadgets, and loved ones.

9,500 people think it’s worth $2 million in funding, probably thanks to both the artfully shot Kickstarter video and how much it reminds them of that thing from Star Trek. Their promo material says it can tell you if an avocado is ripe without having to touch it, the nutritional facts on cheese so you don’t have to read the label, and at one point in the video it identifies an apple as “fruit.”

No, ok, I’m being a spoilsport, and it is pretty cool living in the future. Can this thing be useful for DIYBio? Well, maybe. Our intrepid Google Group writers are mostly as curmudgeonly as me, but one brave man suggests it might be good for telling if your media is stale, if your yogurt culture is still good, or which poorly labeled Petri dish is which. If you get one, feel free to write and tell me why I’m wrong!

Ryan Bethencourt is blogging about biohackers again

Discussion

Counter Culture Labs co-founder, Berkeley Biolabs CEO, and professional Brazilian model Ryan Bethencourt wrote an article championing “the rise of biohackers,” which you should go read if only to scrub your mind of my cranky cynicism. On the email list, he has a pretty interesting run-down of successful DIYBio projects, including Berkeley Biolabs, a biohacker accelerator he started with some other BioCurious alums.

BlogRoll blog roll blo groll

We’re putting together a list of active DIYBio-related blogs, so if you want to add yours/argue about what constitutes active/check out some excellent DIYBio projects and writing, head right this way and give a shout.

 

As usual, email me, tweet me, or send a rock-climbing cat to find me with the news you want to see here next week. 

News round-up

May 20, 2014

Cat Ferguson

It’s time for another round-up of what y’all have been chatting about on the email list. Bit of a slow news week, so help me spice it up next week by shooting me an email or a tweet, and I’ll put it up here next week.

 

DIYBio internship in Minneapolis

Discussion

Spark-Y, a non-profit dedicated to educating kids about sustainability, is now taking applications for their annual (unpaid) summer internship. Those from ages 16-24 are welcome to apply. If you choose to focus on the DIYBio project, you’ll be helping build their new community wetlab.

Interns can also work on aquaponics and vermicomposting, also known as “composting with a whole bunch of worms.” College credit available, etc. Apply here by June 7.

Destiny Ziebol, who’s developing the wetlab, has solicited help from the DIYBio community, so shoot her any suggestions at destiny@spark-y.org.

The Wet Lab is currently focusing on “developing a greener future through the benefits of plants and algae,” but members expect to expand their projects soon. They’ve made their home at the San Diego Fab Lab, and they’ve got fifty people on their Meetup after five months, which seems like a pretty good start to me. They meet Wednesdays at 6:30, and optional membership dues are a bargain at $5 a month. They’re setting up their own wetlab soon. It’s organized by Cameron Clarke, a Biocurious alumn, and they’re building bioreactors for algae production, so check it out if you’re in the neighborhood.

 

The return of the $21 gel box

Discussion

In 2011, Joseph Elsbernd wrote a blog post called “Cheapass science – How to build a $21 gel box.” People were really into it, although the Google Group discussion got a little sidetracked arguing if you could put agar into the dishwasher without destroying your plumbing. Anyway, somebody dug this up yesterday and asked for more details on the Google Group, making this a good a time as any to remind you how to make a gel box for less than the cost of popcorn and a movie.

 

DIYBio News Round-Up

May 13, 2014

Cat Ferguson

Cat Ferguson

Cat Ferguson

Hey there biohackers! Mac and Jason have asked me to dust this blog off a little and take it for a spin. I’ll be joining you once a week, right here, to recap what the DIYBio community has been chewing on lately. Under every headline, you’ll find a link to the Google Group discussion of the topic. I’m also planning on regularly digging deeper into cool projects and events, so be sure to get it touch via email or Twitter and let me know what you’re up to.

On to the news – this one’s longer than usual, since I have some catching up to do!

Hello world: new DIYBio spaces

The Wet Lab opens in San Diego

Discussion

The Wet Lab is currently focusing on “developing a greener future through the benefits of plants and algae,” but members expect to expand their projects soon. They’ve made their home at the San Diego Fab Lab, and they’ve got fifty people on their Meetup after five months, which seems like a pretty good start to me. They meet Wednesdays at 6:30, and optional membership dues are a bargain at $5 a month. They’re setting up their own wetlab soon. It’s organized by Cameron Clarke, a Biocurious alumn, and they’re building bioreactors for algae production, so check it out if you’re in the neighborhood.

Open Discover Institute launches DIYBio Store 

Discussion

The Open Discover Institute (ODIN), a project by NASA scientist Josiah Zayner, has started taking pre-orders for hardware and wetware at reasonable prices. ODIN is happy to ship to residential addresses (as Zayner put it on the DIYBio Google Group, “Of course I will ship to residential addresses that is the whole point!”). A basic lab starter kit will run you about $750, and 50 uL of a DNA ladder is listed for $11. Gift certificates are available for that special hacker in your life.

Zayner expects to start shipping in June. Next up for the ODIN store: refurbished PCR machines and centrifuges, though no word on timing for those.

Upcoming international events

Bring your tents to Finland for bio-nerd camp 

Discussion

Pixelache Helsikis is a Finnish group dedicated to fighting “an ‘ache’ to re-engage with non-digital interfaces and systems.” They’re running a camp from June 6-8 on Variosaari Island, off Helsinki. That’s a literal camp, involving tents and everything; the island is a nature preserve you get to via ferry. The Finnish Society of Bioart will be holding a workshop the whole weekend with a focus on “Bio-Commons,” bio resources freely available to the public.

Topics under discussion include legal concerns surrounding access to both natural and man-made resources; various approaches to licensing biotechnology; and ethical and societal issues relating to DIYBio. Keynote speaker is Markus Schmidt, a scientist-turned-communicator who writes widely about ethical and policy issues related to synthetic biology.

You can help plan the conference here, or submit relevant comments and artwork to  Rüdiger Trojok.

Barcelona Fab Lab Conference 

Discussion

The 10th annual International Fab Lab Conference is coming up July 2-8 in the capital of Catalonia. A week of workshops, conferences, exhibitions, and a symposium in one of the prettiest cities in the world. The main event, the Fab Festival, is from July 5-6. They’re expecting 10,000 people and hundreds of activities.

There’s also a contest for open-source maker projects that closes May 31, so if you’ve got a cool digital fabrication project, now’s the time to get it together. Everything you submit will be up for public grabs, and finalists will have their projects displayed at FAB10. They’re looking for community problem solving, sustainability, and aesthetics – plus a People’s Choice Award with a special prize.

A certain writer is dying to go to lovely España, so if you’re interested in sponsoring a DIYBio press trip to FAB10, shoot me an email.

Hackers in the Himalayas 

Discussion

On the weekend of October 24, in Dharamshala, India, a group of hackers from across the world is getting together for hillhacks, a weekend-long conference, Makerfaire, and workshop series. The planners hail from San Francisco, Tibet, and everywhere in between.

Schedule and events are still being fleshed out, so feel free to hit the mailing list, join the conference calls, and lend a hand. More info here.

Classes and fellowships

Advanced Manufacturing Research Institute announces summer 2014 fellowships 

Discussion

The second annual AMRI fellowship will be kicking off on June 15 and running through August 31. Held at Rice University in Houston, TX, fellows will work with Dr. Jordan Miller developing open-source biology tools.

Applicants should have some experience with open-source platforms tech, like Arduino or Raspberry Pi. But don’t let age hold you back – the only requirement is a high school degree by the time the program starts.

Fellows get a $5,000, and will work on one of four projects: 3D printed prosthetic hands and fingers; selective laser sintering; using organic light emitting diode screens as a light source for 3D printing living tissues; and open source ink jet printing of bacteria. Applications due May 15 at midnight. Click here for more information.

Coursera on data analysis tools 

Discussion

Any aspiring bio-statisticians should head over to Coursera for a free crash-course in data science tools, including markdown, GitHub, R, and RStudio. Students will also learn the concepts behind turning data into useful information. No prior experience required, but you might want to know some programming basics.

Next class starts June 2. Runs for four weeks, three to four hours a week.

News from around the web

Electric current may be the key to lucid dreams

Discussion

It’s not exactly DIYBio, but you guys have been chatting about it and it’s all over the internet. So if you’re interested in applying current to your scalp and controlling your dreams, check out the Verge article and the Nature Neuroscience paper. For a clue what the discussion link above holds, it involves an electrified spaghetti strainer, burnt hair, and a possible dream helmet run off Arduino.

Scripps researchers add two new letters to the genetic alphabet 

Discussion

This one’s a little crazy. Floyd Romesberg and Denis Malyshev have synthesized a third base pair, which they’re calling X and Y, and gotten E. coli to take it up and replicate it by sticking it in a plasmid and modifying the bacteria to take it up. Apparently people have been trying to do this for a while now? Anyway, the bacteria can’t make proteins with the unnatural base pairs (although theoretically something like this could bump possible amino acids from 20 up to 172). So it’s an interesting finding, but it remains to be seen how useful it actually is.

Here’s the Nature paper and a pretty great, in-depth news article from the San Diego Union-Tribune.

A reminder about Ask a Biosafety Expert

 22 questions & counting!

How do I dispose of BSL-1 sharps? Should I dump E. coli down the drain? If I keep fecal samples in my bedroom, how bad is that on a scale of 1-10? Pose these and any other questions you might have to ask biosafety experts, right here. Check out the existing answers, and stay safe out there!

 

DIY+iGEM

November 6, 2013

100ideas

iGEM + DIYBIO logos

The International Genetically Engineered Machines Competition (iGEM) is opening to DIY teams next year. It’s grown from a small experiment with 5 teams in 2004 to the largest community and conference of synthetic biologists in the world (with over 200 teams competing in 2013). I’m on the organizing committee for the new track – the “Community Labs” track – and I’m terrifically excited about the opportunity the iGEM competition provides for growing DIYbio.

I was asked to make the announcement at the recent iGEM World Jamboree, and below you can read a rough transcript of what I said. But if you just want to details, here they are:

DIY teams:

  • get the physical biobrick parts kit (DNA of over 1000 standard biological parts)
  • pay the same fees (~$3000 + $450 / person)
  • need two “PI” leaders (anyone can be one)
  • need a legally-recognized company to host the team (start your own, or ask a public lab to host your team; the two PIs need to be part of the team company)
  • compete amongst other teams in the DIY track to win the track prize
  • compete amongst all the teams for other prizes, including the GRAND PRIZE
  • can have members of any age
  • can be any size

Running an iGEM project is a big job, there’s no doubt. But if you’re up to it, you can use the competition as a powerful organizing tool for recruiting talented scientists, engineers, artists, and biohackers to work together and as a motivating force to solicit funds from many different local and national donors.

If you’re interested in spending six months building and designing your own biological system with synthetic biology, think about starting or joining an iGEM team in 2014.

I’m planning on starting a San Francisco team, and I’m going to recruit from the local biohacker scene, as well as from the local biotechs, big internet companies, and research labs. I see iGEM as a beautiful way to bring together really smart people to figure out and do DIY synthetic biology.

For more info, look on the diybio@googlegroups.com list for iGEM threads or leave comments below. You can also email diy@igem.org if you have specific comments or questions for the organizers.

Good luck!
Mac


(I gave shortened version of this talk (7 min in) at the iGEM 2013 Jamboree, excited and out of breath after sprinting over from the middle of a judging meeting. Not the pomp and circumstance I was hoping for – but it is more fitting for DIY I think.)

Hi everyone. First, I want to applaud all your amazing work engineering and building biological systems here in iGEM. It’s simply amazing. So. I’m Mac Cowell and terrifically excited to announce a new iGEM track – the iGEM Community Labs track. But before I give you the details, I’d like to just talk for a moment about how iGEM and DIYbio relate from my perspective.

iGEM is an engine for innovation, like the scientific academy and the free market. But in addition to the accolades of scientific publishing and the economic rewards of the free markets, the real motive force that energizes synthetic biology innovation in iGEM is powered by a simple desire by the participants to “push the technology” as far as possible – and to HAVE FUN. This is an intrinsic and separate motivation but just as a valid and important as a wish to advance science or make millions.

Innovating for the sake of innovation itself is an incredibly powerful force, and it’s what excites me – and you – about the opportunity iGEM offers to “push the envelope” of biological technology.

The worldwide community of “amateur biologists”, biohackers, citizen scientists, or otherwise “non-institutional scientists” are motivated in the same way. They want to push the envelope of biological technology. They want to, in general, increase the power of an individual to understand biological systems – “to understand things” – and to prototype biological designs – *to build things*. They ask why the tools we use as biological engineers – protocols and equipment and organisms and genes – are the way they are, and perhaps not simpler, less expensive, or just easier.

Like iGEM, the worldwide biohacker community thinks outside the box and innovates for the sake of innovation.

I was once an iGEM participant – in 2005. Over the following years, the I was continually amazed by the innovation at the edges of synthetic biology that iGEM stimulated. And most surprising of all, it was being done by you – undergraduates. Not teams of PhDs working for academic fame. Not companies motivated by profits. By you iGEM youngsters, driven by the simple obsession of inventing something *new*.

So in 2008, inspired by the community of iGEM biohackers – those kids inventing for invention’s sake, pushing the boundaries of what’s possible with synthetic biology – I coined a phrase with my friend Jason Bobe in an attempt to name the community with similar ideals outside of iGEM. We named it “diybio”. That name was a pebble at the top of a mountain. And over the last 5 years, it seems to have caused a landslide. But the two of us just gave it it’s first little push.

But despite their fundamental alignment, the diybio & iGEM communities have not formally intersected – until now.

In 2014, DIY teams operating their own labs are invited to participate in iGEM. The fees will be the same as for other teams – roughly $3000 to register and $450 per participant going to the Jamboree. DIY teams will receive the part distribution and will compete with other DIY teams in the track, as well as being eligible for awards from the other iGEM tracks as well as the grand prize. In other words, a DIY team, like the teams in the other tracks, could be the ultimate winner of the competition. DIY teams are required to have two leaders – or “PIs” – who do not have to be accredited scientists, but who do need to be listed as managers or leaders of the company that runs the teams lab space.

If a team wants to form a new lab, that’s fine – they’ll just need to create an LLC or C-corp or other legal entity as an umbrella for their activities. Or they can ask members of an existing organization to act as the PIs of the team. Importantly, these PIs and the associated legal entity are what become responsible for the activities and behavior of the team – not the iGEM organization.

iGEM requires a large investment in time and money to participate, but its format as annual competition actually facilitates fundraising, recruitment, and general motivation to do something BIG. It provides a compelling vehicle to organize a team, a lab, and get a project done on time. Having observed the competition grow from 13 teams in 2005 to over 200 teams in 2013, I’ve noticed time after time how much easier it is for teams to raise money when they tell donors “we need this money to win! support us and the local community,” instead of “we need this money to do our science project – please support us and science!”.

In my opinion, the new DIY track could stimulate many new community labs and teams to form with great benefits to the diybio community.

Anyone can start a team, and for you, I have two critical suggestions. As the leader of the team, you’ll have two main jobs in the beginning, just like a CEO: 1) recruiting awesome teammates, and 2) raising money to support the team.

Start with recruitment first. Put together a talk or presentation about what iGEM is and why you’re excited about participating, then go to your local communities that might have awesome people interested in helping, and get them excited! Go to local biotech companies, research labs, retiree communities, schools, museums, hackathons, lightning talks, science nights, and any other venue you think might be a filter for smart, capable, motivated people interested in biohacking. You can use iGEM to build an amazing local team of talented scientists and engineers.

Once the team starts to come together, do the same roadshow at local businesses, asking for sponsorship. Tell them you’ll put their logo all over your tshirts and website etc. Try to get some grants from the city. Ask for $1000 from the awesomefoundation.org.

DIY iGEM teams in 2014 are a huge opportunity to build the strength and reach of DIYbio everywhere. I encourage you all to consider starting teams and using iGEM as a focal point for getting great people and real money involved in DIYbio.

More details about participating will be available at iGEM.org in 2014. In the meantime, please direct any questions or comments to diy@igem.org.

Get excited!
Mac Cowell

Funding Models for DIY biologists

December 14, 2012

Jason Bobe

Over at Nature’s SpotOn, Rayna Stamboliyska asks the question: “How do we make DIYBio sustainable?”

Check out her review of funding strategies in the DIYbio community to-date, including:

  • membership fees (e.g. Biocurious)
  • fee for service (e.g. workshops at Genspace)
  • grant funding (e.g. MadLab UK)
  • crowdfunding (e.g. Open PCR)
  • commercialization (e.g. Amplino)

Thanks Rayna!

Hardware: Algae microscope and cell-picker

Project
Hackteria XYCellPicker stage

Draft entry

Developer:

Urs Gaudenz AKA GaudiLab & HackteriaLab team

Date:

Rolling Development

Description:

A CD-ROM reading head for XY micro-positioning of a small glas capillary. The coil head is controlled using an arduino. The coils are directely connected to the PWM output pins. Picking head mounted on a larger XY-table (roboscope-style cam design, -ed.) for macro adjustments using the two stepper motors.

Design Files

Formal specs unavailable. But here’s a hackterish photo by way of illustration:
Hackterialab WebCamCellPicker diagram

Related Hardware:

roboscope xyz stage video

Previous Coverage:

- uncertain

Read more

Hardware: GoGoFuge

Project
GoGoFuge orthometric photo

Developer:

Keegan Cooke

Date:

18 Mar 2012

Description:

Case, display, and control electronics for dremelfuge-based centrifuge. Based on GoGoBoard. Created as part of Standford FabLabs at School program. Designed to convert into vortexer shaker with eccentric-axis tube holder and rubber bands. Instruction Manual.

Design Files

GoGoFuge laser-cutting vectors – wood (.cdr)
GoGoFuge laser-cutting vectors – acrylic (.cdr)
GoGoFuge GoGoBoard firmware (.gogo)
note: please visit the gogofuge manual page if the design files links are broken.
Hardware license statement unavailable.

Related Hardware:

Dremelfuge Classic

Previous Coverage:

Keegan Cooke diybio list announcement

Read more

Hardware: add a project

Project
diybio reveolution

Got a hardware project that should be listed at diybio.org/hardware? Please provide a link to more details in the comments below.

Hardware: Dremelfuge Classic

Project
Dremelfuge Classic attached to dremeltool

Developer:

Cathal Garvey

Date:

12/29/09

Description:

Design for mini-centrifuge rotor that fits onto a Dremel tool shaft. 6-tube capacity. 3D-printing suitable for manufacturing. Open-Source Hardware. Design files available at thingiverse.com, 3D prints available at Shapeways.com.

Cathal Garvey:“Intended basic applications of Dremelfuge include column purification (tested to work with miniprep columns) and bacterial/cell debris pelleting (under testing). With standard microcentrifuge tubes, the average rotary distance is 4cms.”

Design Files

thingiverse.com – License unknown

Related Hardware:

- Keegofuge

Previous Coverage:

DIY Centrifuge using Dremel Tool

Read more

BioArt Laboratories Grand Opening May 18 in Eindhoven

May 8, 2012

Jason Bobe

Very happy to add BioArt Laboratories to the /local page. They will be having their Grand Opening on May 18th in Eindhoven, The Netherlands.  Jalila wrote to say everyone is invited!

http://bioartlab.com/
https://www.facebook.com/BioArtLab

BioArt Laboratories
Achtseweg zuid 151
5651GW Eindhoven
The Netherlands

Flyer: Invitation to Opening of BioArt Laboratories (PDF)

diybio news aggregator

February 22, 2012

100ideas

news.diybio.org

If you drop by news.diybio.org, you’ll find a live aggregator of all sorts of diybio-related news feeds, updated in real-time.  We’re aggregating diybio-related blogs, twitter feeds, and email topics on the main diybio google group.

Here is the list (opml) of the diybio blogs our news aggregator follows. Please suggest additional blogs for us to follow in the comments

So – go check out the news: news.diybio.org!

The aggregator software is developed and maintained by Dan Choi and is loosely based on his boston-rubyists project – thanks, Dan!

MOAR BLOGZ!

Please add suggestions for additional blogs and twitter feeds to the comments below and we’ll add them to the news dashboard.

DIYbio News Round-up

January 16, 2012

Jason Bobe

The DIYbio community has been featured in several major news outlets recently.  Here is a round-up, with links to featured individuals and community labs:

Postcard Subscribers 1 Jan 2012

January 3, 2012

100ideas

diybio postcard subscribers - 01 Jan 2012

The community posted some great submissions (see them here) for the first diybio postcard “mini-newsletter”, providing a brief snapshot of activity over the last two months.

Over the next two weeks I’ll finish the layout, printing, and mailing of the cards, so they should hopefully be arriving in your mailbox around the end of January. The cards are going all over the world, to over 100 subscribers spanning six of the seven continents (aren’t there any diybiologists in Antarctica yet?).

Subscribe for free, learn more about the postcard project, or check out the entries for the first postcard.

DIYbio on NPR

March 23, 2011

Jason Bobe

The Kojo Nnamdi Show invited a few folks from the DIYbio community to have a discussion about the amateur biology movement.  Appearing on the show was:

  • David Rejeski: Director, Synthetic Biology Project, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
  • Daniel Grushkin: Vice president and a founder of Genspace; Freelance Science Writer
  • Jason Bobe: Co-founder of DIYbio.org; Executive Director of PersonalGenomes.org

More details about the program, or listen to the archived stream.

Biotech Crash Course

March 3, 2011

Jason Bobe

For those in the NYC area who are ready to roll-up your sleeves and learn new biotech skills, I received the following note from Ellen Jorgensen, President & Scientific Program Director at Genspace:

Genspace is repeating its popular Biotech Crash Course starting Sunday March 20th. It will run from 2PM to 6PM on three consecutive Sundays and cover all the basic techniques used to cut and manipulate DNA. This is a hands-on course where you will isolate DNA, cut it using restriction enzymes, amplify it using PCR, and clone it into bacteria.  The cost for the course is $300.  We have 12 slots available, with two at a special discounted student rate. Please let us know ASAP if you are interested, since we anticipate this session will fill up fast.

A Peek Inside the Genspace Community Lab

February 23, 2011

Jason Bobe

In case you missed the December 2010 launch party in Brooklyn, Nature Medicine takes a tour inside the new Genspace community lab and talks to co-founder Daniel Grushkin (video link):

One of the most intriguing features of their space is a big glass box where all the lab equipment lives (much of it donated from a bankrupt biotech company).  The lab is constructed from several sliding glass doors drawn from the vast supply of found and recovered objects that occupy several floors of the Met Exchange building.  When I visited in December, I asked the Genspace folks the obvious question: Why did you build your lab in a glass box?  I learned that they had help from the (wonderful) Met Exchange owner Al Attara, who asked them for some basic requirements and they said “well, for starters, we know we want our lab to be open and transparent…”  They came back to the space a few days later, and, voila!  Lab in a (glass) box!  Made from sliding glass doors!

Read more about Genspace at their blog or follow them on twitter @genspacenyc.  See also the nice profile piece of Al and his Met Exchange in the nytimes.

Piracy in the age of DIYbio

December 7, 2010

diybioguest

Charlie Schick is an ex-scientist and a determined practical microbiologist. He writes about science, media, and other lofty subjects at http://molecularist.com.

Recently, I’ve been prowling the aisles of liquor stores and supermarkets reading labels of fermented foods, looking for new cultures to use. Am I violating any copyright?

Image from Wikipedia

Back in June, the DIYbio folks in the Boston area had a fun meet-up on yoghurt making, led by Vaughn Tan. One thing that was brought up but we really did not discuss was the copyright of culture strains found in yogurts. Mac asked if there were legal ramifications to using strains taken from commercial yogurt.

I remember a time when it was hard to find commercial products with live cultures, for example beer or yogurt. Beers were pasteurized (ugh) or, later, filtered to remove live cultures. And in the 90s, I remember Stonyfield’s as being the only “widely” available live yogurt.

But now it seems almost all yogurts have live cultures (though not necessarily with a rich set of bugs – some seem to have 1 or 2 instead of the usual 5). And I was impressed with my local liquor store carrying a wide range of beers with live yeast, such as lambics (fermented with a complex collection of wild yeasts and bacteria) and a breton beer, that caught my eye because it was made with two yeasts.

When I need to, I start my yogurt cultures with a starter taken from a commercial yogurt, such as Stonyfield’s. And I’m considering pitching (inoculating) my next beer batch with the two yeasts of that breton beer.

Is this “fair use”? If I give the culture to someone else, is that piracy? And what if I start selling my product?

And how can anyone prove it is their strain? These bugs are easily available, and most are naturally occurring. Will commercial strains need to be fingerprinted somehow for copyright protection?

You can see where this is going: Who will be the RIAA-equivalent in this story, to crack down on infringement? Who will be the EFF- or Creative Commons-equivalent to promote openness? Will we have a Napster-like bug-sharing service, freely sharing strains among all sorts of practical microbiologists?

In the lab, there are usually rules in place to restrict the free sharing of strains or samples. But these are usually for recombinant organisms, where it is clear what was created. What about for naturally occurring organisms?

Open sharing of information is a cornerstone of DIYbio. Will the same freedom extend to the sharing of microorganisms, especially if those microorganisms come from a lab or commercial product?

I don’t have the answers. Do you?

I Brew, Therefore I am

November 22, 2010

diybioguest

Charlie Schick is an ex-scientist and determined practical microbiologist. He writes about science, media, and other lofty subjects at http://molecularist.com

Long ago, people discovered that not all food-spoiling processes were harmful. Indeed, people have harnessed fermentation, a spoiling process, to preserve foods – beer, wine, cheese, sauerkraut, cider, kimchee, yoghurt, and, of course, surströmming (you won’t believe what it is).

To me, humans have always been practical microbiologists: we probably settled down to farm barley for beer, one of the oldest pieces of writing is a recipe for beer, and it’s not surprising that early biochemists studied enzymes in the fermentation process.

The ancient (1800 BC) sumerian Hymn to Ninkasi encodes a rudimentary beer recipe

For us DIYbiologists, making foods like beer or yoghurt offers a great way to learn sterile techniques, handling of microorganisms, and many of the principle of microorganism culturing – growth media, inoculation, and strain growth conditions.

I brew beer and make yoghurt. Making yoghurt is stupidly simple. Starters are available from any live-culture yoghurt found in the supermarket. And I use mason jars (usually from spaghetti sauce) for the fermentation.

Brewing beer from malt extract doesn’t require an inordinate amount of time or equipment. Brew shops have various strains of yeast you can use as a starter. And if you’re adventurous, you can capture natural bacteria and yeast to form a starter.

Do you ferment anything? Beer, wine, or cider? Do you use microorganisms for food production?

Bulletproof silk sheets, thank you science

November 7, 2010

Jason Bobe

Silkworms have been engineered to produce a more durable silk by augmenting them with properties from spiders.  The applications of the transgenic silk include textiles, sutures and wound healing, and even new bulletproof materials.

(HT Christina)

See also a recent paper on the miraculous spidersilk produced by “Darwin’s bark spider”, Agnarsson et al. 2010. Bioprospecting finds the toughest biological material: extraordinary silk from a giant riverine orb spider. PLoS One 5 e11234 doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0011234

DIYbio and the "MAN"

November 5, 2010

karembiki

Dr. Todd Kuiken is a research associate for the Synthetic Biology Project at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He is collaborating with DIYbio.org on a project to ensure safety within the rapidly expanding community of amateur biologists.

If the “MAN” was just one man, dealing with new and exciting movements such as DIYbio would be rather easy. Unfortunately the “MAN” consists of numerous federal agencies ranging from the FBI to the EPA, all with different jurisdictions and oversight concerns. Add to that state and local agencies, neighborhood associations and your curious neighbor looking over the fence and the complexity of engaging with all of these groups becomes clear. The DIYbio community needs to take these agencies concerns seriously, as I think we are doing, and turn them into excitement over this new field of biology and the larger movement of citizen science as a whole.

As I began talking about DIYbio with various agencies a theme began to emerge amongst those who were tasked with “oversight”, for lack of a better word, of DIYbio. There was a general excitement about the community and the conversation frequently turned to “remember when science was fun”. While these various agencies have legitimate concerns surrounding the DIYbio movement, the conversations thus far have been positive and seem to be more about helping the movement move forward safely while encouraging more people to get “excited” about science again. By no means do I think this will be an easy task, but an exciting one as we begin to engage the larger public and move deeper into the caverns of regulations, local ordinances and address people’s fears and concerns about moving into the realm of citizen science. I believe strongly that if we follow three simple principles we can calm these fears and produce an environment where the DIYbio community can flourish and the larger citizen science movement can grow.

1. Turn concern into excitement
2. Make science fun again
3. If we engage them they will get it

I recently finished reading “The Radioactive Boy Scout” by Ken Silverstein, which describes the true story of a young man named David who over the course of his childhood became fascinated with DIYchemistry and by the time he graduated high school had designed and built a small nuclear reactor in his backyard (with a little help from a book published in 1960 called “The Golden Book of Chemistry”, long out of print and probably for good reason, but in short, has some pretty amazing experiments designed for the DIYer, including how to make chloroform!). In the end the EPA arrived, tore down his makeshift lab and turned his family’s suburban Detroit backyard into a Superfund site. This true story is an excellent example of how curiosity and people’s desire to explore science can both lead to pretty amazing accomplishments, from a technical standpoint, but can also carry with it serious safety concerns and potential over reaction by the federal government. I plan on writing future posts describing the significance of this story and how it relates to the DIYbio movement and the lessons we can take from it in order to better engage with the “MAN”.

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