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News you can use, week three

May 27, 2014

Cat Ferguson

Our microbiota, ourselves


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


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


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. 

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