Saturday, January 31, 2009

Do It Yourself Biology in Seattle

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.
  •, 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]

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