I'm going to be out at UMass Amherst visiting my PhD advisor, Craig Martin. He's been so kind to let me do a brown-bag discussion around DIYBio and Synth Bio:
Brown Bag Lunch
Presentation and Discussion
Do-It-Yourself Biology, Registry of Standardized Parts, iGEM, and moreISB Conference Room 145
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Alas, there was zippo name-recognition for DIYbio and Synth Bio (so much for all those news articles). So, Craig asked me to make a summary of some sort.
What it means to me:
DIYBio is basically about increasing the tinkerability of biology. While there are some who think there's science in DIYBio ("citizen science"), the current buzz is around making biology simpler and more accessible outside of institutional settings - hacking, basically. Folks are making $100 gel boxes, isolating bioluminescent microbes from squid, building Dremel-based centrifuges, isolating DNA from strawberries, or trying to figure out ways to make something equivalent to Arduino for biology. It is a nascent "movement" drawing a lot from the Open Source way of doing things and is still about hacking and having fun and introducing people to the tools of biology. But, as in other areas, the expectation is that interesting things will happen when tools became cheaper and more approachable. How will that impact institutional science?
Synthetic Biology, of the Biobricks flavor, seeks to create a standardized registry of characterized biological parts to aid in the engineering of specified micro-organisms. Much like standardized electronic parts paved the way for the electronics industry, the expectation is that standardized biological parts will lead to better engineering of micro-organism. Showcasing what can be done, there's an annual jamboree for genetically engineered machines (iGEM) where micro-organisms have been engineered to produce various pigments, electrically stimulated light production, and detect explosives and toxins. How will things change as it becomes easier to create defined biological machines?So what's the sales pitch? Why should anyone out at UMass care about these topics?
DIYBio and Synthetic Biology are re-arranging the way non-scientists engage with biology. It's not really about science, but about making biology more tinkerable, more hackable, more approachable so that the messiness goes away and creativity can shine. Designers, engineers, and other non-biologists are making biological tools and experimenting in fun and practical ways. From melamine detectors to mine detectors, from bioluminescent bacteria in squid isolated in the kitchen to electrically induced light production in a lab, biology is starting to be more than just about biology and more about machines. What does this mean to academic scientists? How might this change the future of biological science?
I guess I just want to get the word out. I feel that these two topics are changing the way folks view and use biology. And I think is some ways, making biology more accessible outside of the institutional setting will change what we can do with biology by opening access to whole new swaths of creative people.
What do you think of my descriptions here?
Image from daisybush
Developing thought on biological tinkering and biological machines: Sure, biology-as-products exists today, in the form of breeding, brewing, bio-pharmaceuticals. But for me, in those cases the biology is serving the biology (as in, the protein is the drug, or the organism is the end-product). These engineered machines are using biological tools for non-biological purposes (such as toxin detectors or pixel generators)