I finally was able to attend one of the DIYBio meetings this weekend, and now my mind is reeling from all the interesting possibilities I heard. DIYBio is an organization of people who like to study and do amateur experiments in biology. Like me, most of the members think state-of-the-art biotech is becoming more accessible to normal people and want to take advantage of it.
The meeting was organized by a guy who has set up his own private lab at an industrial building he rents for $250/month in a rundown part of Seattle. He’s stocking the lab with used, but usable equipment he buys from eBay: a $40 PCR machine, for example, plus incubators, reagents, centrifuges, and much more – all at very reasonable, amateur prices.
Here are some of the ideas for DIYBio:
- “Bio Beer”, just like the real thing only with specially engineered properties to make it glow in the dark, or with built-in resveratrol (the anti-oxidant that makes red wine so healthy).
- Abalone shells: a substance so strong the US Army wants to use it as armor.
- Biodiesel, made from specially-engineered high-fat algae.
- Bacteria that eat polyethylene, making any plastic biodegradable.
- Theyshallwalk.org, an organization that is making devices to let paraplegics walk.
- Artificial meat: go after the $1M PETA prize for growing chicken breasts without chickens.
- Personal genomics: learn more about – and maybe manipulate -- your own genetic code.
The concept reminds me of the original Homebrew Computer Club, from California, which I attended a few times myself before its own success caused it to peter out in the mid-1980s. Just a bunch of amateurs, all with day jobs doing something else, but convinced that the plummeting prices of technology are making for a revolution that we want to join.
[flickr photo from dullhunk]