How about pursuing biology as a hobby? The DIY Bio

Source: Unsplash

We are all aware of the DIY culture pervasive in computer programming and IT. When you are stuck with a piece of code, there are Stack Overflow, GitHub and hundreds of other resources to help you out. There are even groups of electronics hobbyists and mechanical tinkerers who help each other out. Instructables and Spark Fun Learn are two well-known websites to learn about DIY electronics, say building your own robots, drones etc. I even built an RC-IC Car (Remote Controlled Internal Combustion Engine) in my first year with a few of my batchmates following the tutorials on ‘Engineering Explained’ and ‘How Stuffs Work’.

But how about pursuing biology as a hobby? What about hacking biology? How about being a part of the ‘DIY Bio’ movement? Sounds cool!

What Is DIY Bio?

Manu Prakash demonstrates how to use a Paperfuge, an ultra-affordable, hand-powered centrifuge made of paper and string. [Prakash Et Al]

Dr. Manu Prakash, an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, invented Paperfuge, taking inspiration from an Indian toy ‘Lattu’ (in Hindi), otherwise called ‘Whirligig’. Paperfuse is a hand-powered, low-cost centrifuge costing around $0.20. The Paperfuse can achieve speed of 125,000 rpm (revolutions per minute). It can separate plasma from whole blood in less than 90 seconds. With a keen passion for biohacking, the Computer Science graduate from one of India’s prestigious universities went to become a Professor in Bioengineering at Stanford University.

Lattu (A Indian Toy) that inspired Dr. Prakash to invent Paperfuse.

George Church, a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, helped pioneer the DIY movement in biology. DIY Bio is an open-science innovation movement that has recently caught a social spring. According to him, “The DIY Bio movement will be successful because the cost of both synthesizing and decoding DNA molecules is now falling five times faster than the cost of computing power.”

If you are in an engineering school, maybe you would have used one or seen your peers using Arduino microcontrollers to build super cool robots or gadgets of their own. These days middle school kids have also started to use Arduino microcontrollers, Raspberry Pi and sensors to build uber cool gadgets that can solve a real-world problem. A starter robotic kit costs around $300 and with several resources available on the web, a novice programmer like a middle school kid can build his own bot without the need of expert help.

This is exactly what the ‘DIY Bio’ revolution wants to do. The ‘DIY Bio’ aims to bring non-experts as naive as a high school student to develop new innovative solutions that can disrupt healthcare (biohacking).

How To Promote DIY Bio?

OpenPCR is a low-cost DNA Copying Machine that can help biohackers disrupt Genetic Engineering. Source: OpenPCR

One of the best ways to promote the biohacking is by introducing low-cost biological lab techniques and devices, such as the Paperfuse. OpenPCR (shown above) is one of the many devices that helps in DNA copying at a fraction of a cost of the commercial grade machine. It costs as low as $499.

Today, most of the innovations in Biotech still comes from the research labs or pharmaceutical companies where highly trained experts give their inputs. The DIY culture in Biology will build a new parallel force which doesn’t have enough experience in life science but capable of innovation.

Currently, there isn’t any Biohacking community lab in Europe or Asia like bioCURIOUS. BioCurious is the World’s First Hackerspace for Bio, Built in the Heart of Silicon Valley. This is a community of scientists, technologists, entrepreneurs, and amateurs who believe that innovations in biology should be accessible, affordable, and open to everyone. More such community labs need to be introduced to see significant strides in biohacking.

Take a look at the Home Made Centrifuge in the figure below. Attaching this customized plastic test-tube holder with a drill bit makes it a centrifuge costing less than $50. Currently, a commercial grade centrifuge would cost at least $300. If this is not disruption, I don’t know what is.

Customized Test tube Holder That Can Be Turned To A Centrifuge

Conclusion

According to PwC, one of the top-notch consulting firms, Biotechnology and life science is one of the fastest growing industries now. For several years, biotech has been predominantly slow i embracing technological revolutions. Be it embracing Artificial Intelligence, Big Data or Internet of Things, the biotech sector has always been late in adopting new technologies as compared to the finance, banking, and manufacturing sectors.

The DIY Culture in biology will help in bring disruptive innovations because people from a non-biology background tend to bring a new perspective.

Originally published at anumbmind.xyz on December 30, 2018.

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Suraj Panigrahi

Suraj Panigrahi

Education Blogger | Biomedical Engineer | Mechanical Engineer