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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


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 


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 


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 


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 


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 


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 


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


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 


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!


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