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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


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


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


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


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


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


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) And keep your eyes peeled for more events coming soon!

Free biosafety advice kits available to community labs


From Jason Bobe, all-knowing founder of

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 (, 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


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?


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


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


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


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?


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:



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.)



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


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


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


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


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


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


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. 

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


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

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


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


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!



November 6, 2013


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 list for iGEM threads or leave comments below. You can also email if you have specific comments or questions for the organizers.

Good luck!

(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

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 in 2014. In the meantime, please direct any questions or comments to

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


Draft entry


Urs Gaudenz AKA GaudiLab & HackteriaLab team


Rolling Development


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

GoGoFuge orthometric photo


Keegan Cooke


18 Mar 2012


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


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

Hardware: Dremelfuge Classic

Dremelfuge Classic attached to dremeltool


Cathal Garvey




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, 3D prints available at

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 – 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!

BioArt Laboratories
Achtseweg zuid 151
5651GW Eindhoven
The Netherlands

Flyer: Invitation to Opening of BioArt Laboratories (PDF)

diybio news aggregator

February 22, 2012


If you drop by, 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:!

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


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


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; Executive Director of

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


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

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


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

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


Dr. Todd Kuiken is a research associate for the Synthetic Biology Project at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He is collaborating with 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”.

Whither "Biohackers?"

November 4, 2010


Daniel Grushkin is a science journalist who has written for numerous national publications. He’s a cofounder of GenSpace, New York’s first community lab.

It’s been 25 years since Steven Levy came out with his seminal book Hackers, and we still can’t agree on a definition for them. Hackers are deft programmers and designers, they’re whiz kids who break into computer systems, they’re guys who wear leather overcoats à la The Matrix.

But let’s face it: in popular culture the term “hacking” is cool because it suggests a reversal of power. People who we thought were powerless turn out to be powerful, and those who we thought all-powerful end up weak (or at least silly). It’s cool when a 7-year-old blind boy figures out how to trick phone systems into giving him unlimited free calls by whistling at the right pitch. It’s cool when misfits take down a shady company by exposing their secrets (see Wikileaks or Lisbeth Salander).

It fulfills a fantasy we all have—that through moxie and smarts the little guy can upend the system. (I suspect that if you don’t consider yourself the little guy, then you don’t find it that cool.) But without the little guy on top, it doesn’t come off. Case in point, when China launches a cyber attack on the Pentagon, or when a government agency hacks into the little guy’s computer, it’s not that cool. Actually it’s scary.

I’m not sure who coined the term biohacker, but it sounds super- f#@ing cool. To others it sounds super-f#@ing scary. Unpack the term, and I’ll show you why.

You and I are the little guys in the biohacker scenario, but who’s the big guy? Where’s the reversal? At first you might think, ‘Oh, it’s the corporations and universities that spend billions to do what we’re doing on the cheap.’ I don’t think so. Though we may one day democratize science, if anything, we operate in parallel to these institutions.

I think the phrase biohacking suggests an even bigger “big guy,” at least it does to the popular press and culture-at-large. Hacking, at least in this context, assumes that the system has a purpose. When a hacker hacks a system he subverts its original purpose for his own. The little boy takes a system designed to trade telecommunication for money and makes it free. The misfit takes a system originally meant to secure information and turns it into a system that reveals information.

Similarly, for many when you use the term biohack, embedded in the notion is that biology has a purpose, that the designer (presumably God) created it to fulfill that purpose, just like the phone company or the security system. To hack it is to somehow subvert the design, and through it, supplant the designer (again, presumably God). Now granted, if you took an insider’s view of the term “hack” this would all seem preposterous. But look at this graphic from The Economist illustrating the creation of the first synthetic bacteria. That’s man playing the role of God in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel.

Credit: Economist, May 20th 2010

And you wonder why some of the public sees us as dangerous (parables like the Tower of Babel follow thereafter). At the same time, for others it’s also the reason why “biohacking” seems so cool (in this case, fantasies of creating a more logical world follow thereafter). Because, in a way, it’s the ultimate reversal of power: Hello God, here comes mankind.

Replace the theological with a Darwinian lens and the term again degrades into nonsense. Why? Because “purpose” is a term that doesn’t apply to evolution. A firefly shines bright not because it was designed to, but because it found utility in a string of mutations. Life is a MacGyver, “purpose” only comes after the biological change is made. So if you put the gene to shine bright in another organism (which we do), you are not subverting what some might call “divine will.” You are, however, throwing your own purpose into that life. Whether that organism finds utility in it is up to the organism (and the conditions you set).

Back to the term biohacker: I’m not saying you shouldn’t use it. Go ahead. But when you do, be aware of the associations you’re drumming up. Personally, it’s not worth it because the associations just don’t fit my worldview.

BioCurious: Experiment with Friends

August 3, 2010


The suits think you can’t do biotech out in the garage. But the suits are wrong.

Meet Eri Gentry, queen of the bio-curious. In 2009, after the recession hit and every biotech company around was going belly up, Gentry went shopping. She picked up over a million dollars worth of lab equipment for $30,000 (around £20,000), installed it in her garage and invited her friends over to play. And her friends invited their friends and pretty soon Gentry was at the front end of the DIY biology movement.

Read the rest of the article at Wired:

More information about BioCurious at:

H+ Beer Meetup

June 12, 2010


hplusbeer party

transhumanists sip beer and munch on charred meat at the h+beer meetup post-conference on Saturday night

Saturday, 12 June 2010, 6PM to 8PM+ at Sprout (map).

The H+ Summit is a two day event that explores how humanity will be radically changed by technology in the near future. Visionary speakers will explore the potential of technology to modify your body, mind, life, and world. It’s all happening this weekend at the Harvard Science center.

H+beer is a free public event for h+summit participants and local technologists, hackers, artists, intellectuals, diybiologists, grad students, h-, and other ilk for socializing and discussion in the early evening amongst the charming light manufacturing equipment at Sprout, a local hackerspace*.

Refreshments (free beer) and snacks will be provided. Since we’ll be in a hackerspace, feel free to augment your talking with hacking to illustrate your conversation.


  • h+ participants
  • local hackers, artists, intellectuals, and h- folks
  • beer
  • snacks
  • brain uploading machines


What will it mean to be a human in this next phase of technological development? How can we prepare now for coming changes? We foresee the feasibility of redesigning the human condition and overcoming such constraints as the inevitability of aging, limitations on human and artificial intellects, unchosen psychology, lack of resources, and our confinement to the planet earth. The possibilities are broad and exciting. The H+ Summit will provide a venue to discuss these future scenarios and to hear exciting presentations by the leaders of the ongoing H+ (r)evolution.”


View Larger Map



* Sprout actually is not a hackerspace per se, but a small social design firm building resources to enable education through experimentation. A side effect of their current efforts is the public workshop they run. Learn more at

Beer Pouring Robots

will post-humans enjoy beer-pouring?

open science fund t-shirt design contest

June 2, 2010


Jacob Shiach over at has been organizing a t-shirt design contest. The proceeds are split between and and the winning designer gets $100 and a free shirt.

Jacob says:

Everyone is welcome and encouraged to vote for the first DIYbio t-shirt until June 6th at midnight when the ballot will close and the winning design will be announced.

The Ballot is located at here.

For those that want to make sure they get in on the first batch pre-orders are available at a discounted $10 at

Here are some of the submitted designs:

p.s. the last is a design that is probably impractical to print by yours truly and was “submitted” on July 2, so it might not officially be in the running.

diybio-boston April 2010 meetup: Microbial Fuel Cell Edition

April 21, 2010


Fred Hapgood, Shawn Finney-Manchester, Marc Rogers, Laura, Keegan Cooke, John at sprout.

This month, Keegan Cooke brought materials to prototype several Microbial Fuel Cell kits he’s developing, I demoed my updated $50 arduino-controlled microscope, and Jason Bobe gave an update about the BioWeatherMap Project Alpha. He has actually got metagenomic data now.

Keegan explains the basics of Microbial Fuel Cells

Before the meetup, Keegan said

“I’ll bring some ingredients to put in the MFCs (soil, sugar, etc.), but I think it would be fun if you told people to bring some leftovers from their refrigerator (no more than a cup of it) and we’ll see who’s leftovers the microbes like the best (i.e. who’s leftovers generate the most power).”

What food or compost products will be converted into the most power? Can’t wait to find out. Keegan took the assembled MFCs back to his workshop for measurement. It takes a week or so for the anode’s environment to become oxygen-free, at which point the electrogenic microbes from the collected soil start colonizing the anode and “breathing” their electrons onto it.

Later, I hastily assembled the latest design for the two-axis computer-controlled slide holder. It’s designed to work with webcams that have been hacked into microscopes. Here’s a video:

More photos are available on flickr: mine, yours.

See you next time!

Garagista Survey!

April 19, 2010


If we were to get a ton ($250,000) of money via grants and donations to support the community, what should we do with it?

How many of us have made recombinant DNA?

Are there more artists here than engineers?

If you are interested in the answers, drop by and contribute your responses. Anonymized, aggregate data will be published on May 1. The survey should only take 5-10 minutes.

Give it a shot!


p.s., if you are the kind of person who likes to be rewarded for doing surveys, email after you finish it and we’ll see about getting you a prize (free primer synthesis, or reagents, or artwork, or something like that).

p.p.s. interested in fundraising? email

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