Power of hands-on experience – DIY Biology and Bio-hacklabs in science outreach
*Bio-hacking is not a topic to be presented in a traditional poster, so I prepared this e-poster for you! I start with basics and then go more into details. Read as much as you wish. There are numerous links embeded; I advice exploring after the conference as well.*
Do-It-Yourself biology movement is founded on the belief that greater public understanding of science, scientific process and wider access to biotechnology has the potential to benefit everyone.
Since it started in 2008, the DIY-biologists/bio-hackers community has grown into a dense international network of passionate people doing creative bio-projects, deeply involved in their local communities. It is a vibrant, productive and safe space for trained and amateur biologists, where everyone can get hand-on experience with science.
If you are an evolutionary biologist who cares dearly about increasing science literacy in your community I want to encourage you to get to know the bio-hacking group in your neighborhood. Or perhaps start your own lab!
Bio-hacking is based on the ethos of DIY movement and hacking community. Technological revolution brought by PC computers started in garages, where a bunch of hackers wanted to simply look inside machines, understand the technology and adapt it for themselves. Similarly, bio-hackers nowadays advocate giving access to biotechnology to everyone.
Biology is often done behind closed doors of academia and seems unreachable to non-specialists. Bio-hackers aim to demystify the process of science and encourage people to come up with their own projects.
What’s going on in bio-hacklabs?
Answer is simple:) -> Whatever their members dream of!
The sort fo projects depends on the place where you are, access to technology and the composition and interests of your group. It is exciting how many interesting projects people can come up with.
Various personal projects (i.e. glowing beer brewery, DNA fingerprinting of dogs in the neighborhood in order to identify who is not cleaning after their dog), workshops involving local community (i.e. extract your own DNA, fermentation lab).
To name just few serious projects topics: fighting air pollution, antibiotic resistance or disease outbreaks. There are also many efforts to produce affordable and safe lab equipment such as the compact BentoLab or collect old but still useful lab stuff.
Honestly, as many people this many projects. (Few words about my own fantastic experience with bio-hacklab here.)
It is obvious that you learn most through hands-on experience.
Bio-hacklabs are great places to bring together people with and without exprience who will design interdisciplinary project and make them happen with their own hands. There is nothing more exciting and educative. People talk about their projects to family and friends and bring more people to the lab. This way knowledge spreads in ripples accross the community.
How does it work?
There are numerous bio-hacklabs all over the world (see ilst here). They are often connected to hackerspaces or makerspaces. Usually they are operated as non-profit organizations, funded by contributions of their members. Essentially those are hobby clubs bringing together people from various backgrounds and with passion for learning.
By now you are probably concerned about safety. The community has developed their own code of ethics that everyone involved has to follow. You can read it here. People also share safety advices online. Speaking from my own experience, those bio-hacklabs are ofter safer than national labs in some countries.
How to get involved?
If the idea appeals to you find your local Bio-hacklab here. If there is nothing in your area but you are motivated to get this bio-hacking moving on look for Hackerspaces or Makerspaces. People there will be interested (I say this with 99,99% certainity) in your idea and would probably like to collaborate. Start using their space to develop small projects. Organize workshops addressed to wide audience and eventually assemble a group of enthusisasts that will want to maintain the bio-hacklab with you.
To wrap it up listen to Ellen Jorgensen from Genspace (NYC) talking about bio-hacking at TED.