Have you ever had the desire to experiment in a biology lab, replete with all of the necessary tech and equipment? Were you the kind of kid that wanted to try tons of things in the science class labs that were not on the worksheet? Do your hobbies include experimenting with genetic splices? If the answer to any of these is yes (or even ”sure”), you may be excited to learn about DIYBio, a new organization that is designed to attract and support “citizen scientists” as they dabble in the fields of biology and biotechnology. An outgrowth of DIYBio has been BioCurious, a Sunnyvale, CA organization that has mixed the openness and networking from DIYBio into a physical space where people in the Bay Area community can work with equipment, under a code of ethics and a community of experts, and collaborate on others’ ideas and projects in a collaborative atmosphere.
BioCurious is a new 2,400 square foot space for amateurs, entrepreneurs, and professionals in the field of biology and biotechnology; a physical space with lab equipment and a knowledgeable community for people to lease for a month at a time and develop their individual projects. According to the website, it invites potential scientists to, “make genetically-engineered bacteria, sequence DNA, find the tools to get your bio-project growing, or make friends with amateurs and experts in the community. The non-profit, which essentially staffed, run, and grown by volunteers in the biotech field, promotes the belief that, “innovations in biology should be accessible, affordable, and open to everyone.” In an apparent pitch to the larger community to become involved in this social science experiment in creating communities of citizen scientists, BioCurious recommends classes for beginners that include injecting jellyfish DNA into bacteria to make them glow; “the ‘hello world’ experiment for synthetic biology.” The community members have already swelled to 580+, most of who are actively participating in the organization’s ongoing projects, although being a member is not required to utilize the space. Compared to many other labs across the country, one can lease a BioCurious lab for a song, at $150 a month.
BioCurious is just one more manifestation of a growing reliance and acceptance of non-traditional scientists in the fields of biotechnology, genetics, and robotics. Last month several gamers were able to unlock a protein structure present in primate AIDS that had eluded highly sophisticated algorithms and geneticists that had been working to discover it. They did this through the development of an open-source protein folding video game called FoldIt. It’s exciting to see what BioCurious’ own citizen scientists may discover or develop, and what that might mean for science going forward into the 21st century.