Posts by: joel
The DIY Bio Salon comes to London
On Wednesday 19 March, the Arts Catalyst in Clerkenwell saw curious patrons and international amateur biologists (or “biohackers”), gather for an evening of presentations and discussions as part of LabEasy‘s ‘DIY Bio Salon’. Keen to hear from some of biohacking’s most outspoken enthusiasts, guests were packed in and surrounded by tables of freakish exhibits from a week’s worth of DIY Bio workshops – drills, circuit boards, cell culture plates, confused-looking fish, and surreal artificial hearts made of bacteria, pumping away in the background. Biohacking’s Lone Ranger First up to speak was DIY biology’s famous lone soldier, Cathal Garvey from Cork, Ireland. A somewhat inspirational figure for having set up a fully-functional lab in his mother’s basement, Cathal is the only biohacker in Europe to have had his lab licensed by the authorities to work with genetically-modified organisms. He described his makeshift lab gear, including a power-drill centrifuge and a coffee-can PCR machine, and the joys of bulk-buying lab chemicals which are sold as over-the-counter laxatives. As for growing colonies of bacteria, that’s as easy as “forgetting about your dinner for a while”. But Cathal made it clear that he had bigger fish to fry with his evening’s talk –and this was the idea of intellectual property (IP). “Over 50% of your own DNA isn’t even yours!” Patenting, he argued, is causing huge problems in the world of biology, with pharmaceutical and agricultural companies patenting genetic sequences in their products, and holding back further essential research and product development from other groups. Golden Rice, for example, modified to produce beta carotene, a key nutrient for healthy eyesight, was delayed for years because of patents. The Politics of DIY Biology and Citizen Science Cathal argued that biotechnology should be about how we feed and clothe ourselves, and IP and its associated...
Ellen Jorgensen’s TED talk
Ellen Jorgensen from Genspace NYC gave a recent TED talk on biohacking which has been getting some attention. We have personal computing, why not personal biotech? That’s the question biologist Ellen Jorgensen and her colleagues asked themselves before opening Genspace, a nonprofit DIYbio lab in Brooklyn devoted to citizen science, where amateurs can go and tinker with biotechnology. Far from being a sinister Frankenstein’s lab (as some imagined it), Genspace offers a long list of fun, creative and practical uses for DIYbio. Ellen Jorgensen is at the leading edge of the do-it-yourself biotechnology movement, which brings scientific exploration and understanding to the masses. – TED Watch the video here
Molecular Biology Explained
A living organism must maintain itself continuously by producing the substances it needs to function. Proteins are one of these key substances and come in a seemingly infinite variety of shapes and structures. They are responsible for virtually everything that goes on in your body and cells, and are produced every second of an organism’s life. They are needed for various functions such as cell growth, tissue repair, signalling between cells, immune responses, muscle movement, enzymes to help carry out chemical reactions, hormones, and they also act as the building blocks for structures such as hair, feathers, insect shells and collagen. The template for making proteins Despite such huge variety, proteins are mostly defined by their sequence of amino acids linked together into ‘polypeptide chains’. The template that codes for these proteins is a molecule called DNA – deoxyribonucleic acid.The central dogma- or more precisely hypothesis- of molecular biology states that genetic information translates from nucleic acid to protein, and not the other way round. This means that DNA makes RNA, and RNA makes proteins.There are exceptions to this process, such as when certain viruses are able to make DNA copies of their own RNA genome. But in most organisms, DNA is copied to RNA. The process by which DNA is copied to RNA is called transcription, and that by which RNA is used to produce proteins is called translation. This is the reason why DNA is such a key part of every organism’s vital processes. Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) In humans, the nucleus of each cell contains 3 billion base pairs of DNA distributed over 23 pairs of chromosomes, and each cell has two copies of the genetic material. This is known collectively as the human genome. The human genome contains around 30 000 genes, each of which codes for...
How do we make DIYBio sustainable?
Interesting post on funding issues for biohacking – published as part of the SpotOn conference in New York, which dealt with many DIY science topics: Funding is a serious issue in the “garage biology,” biohacking and DIYBio communities. This is largely the result of them being made up of a small number of disparate groups or individuals. And while homebrew or second-hand lab gear can be relatively cheap, the cost of regularly used chemical reagents, such as enzymes (vital for ubiquitous processes such as PCR) is quite expensive… Continue reading on the SpotOn NYC webpage…
Launch of DIY Bio Europe
The London BioHackspace were involved in the meeting which recently launched DIY Bio Europe. This feature in Wired details some of the topics which were discussed: On 1 December people descended upon Paris’s Musée des Arts et Métiers for a meeting to kick-off a new European science network. But with participants that included biologists, artists, sociologists, IT consultants and even a beekeeper, this wasn’t a typical science conference. This was the launch of DIY Bio Europe — an international biohacking network. Biohacking is a growing phenomenon, where amateurs build makeshift labs in homes and public spaces to investigate molecular biology. Many have a desire to learn genetics, some want to address gaps in medical research, and others are committed to bringing scientific knowledge out of elite institutions and into the public domain. Continue reading on Wired.co.uk
London BioHackspace featured on BBC News
“A group of amateur scientists from east London have scoured internet auction sites to create their own make-shift laboratory in a cupboard where they carry out experiments – mainly on themselves. They call themselves “bio-hackers”, non-institutional science and technology developers, and they have started to attract interest from professional scientists.” Watch the clip on the BBC News Website
Synthetic Biology: A Right or a Risk?
The London BioHackspace participated in an exhibition at the Grant Museum of Zoology, London, where we presented and visualised the world’s first ‘Public BioBrick’ – a collaboration between scientists from UCL and London Biohackers. This was followed by a debate on the risks and advantages of allowing amateurs to have access to the tools of synthetic biology. Read a write-up of the event at the c-lab blog.
Amateur scientists build Lego-style synthetic BioBricks in public lab
London BioHackspace featured in Wired UK While some may believe that science is better left to scientists, hundreds of amateur biologists around the world have been setting-up makeshift biology labs in their homes, garages and community centres. Some of these “biohackers” or “DIY biologists” have political motivations to open up science for all, a few attempt to address an absence of research in rare genetic diseases, some are curious with a desire to learn, while others are taking part just for the sheer fun of it all. Although “hacking” can carry negative connotations, it is clear that they are not the pipette-wielding revolutionaries they may sound like, and “hacking” is adopted more in the sense of playfully finding innovative and resourceful ways to build and modify. Groups have already developed novel lab equipment hacks including converting webcams into microscopes, building centrifuges out of drills and incubators out of picnic coolers. But despite such seemingly innocent hobbyist activities, biology as a science is also becoming more “hackable”, thanks to the field of synthetic biology. This raises a number of ethical and safety issues, especially if the public were able to access the technology… Continue reading on Wired.co.uk