Do it yourself biology, DIY bio for short, is the idea that DIY projects don’t have to be just about crafts, home repair, or electronics. Promoters argue that the tools needed to take apart, alter, and put back together living organisms should be as widely available as other sorts of tools.
Cathal Garvey is a synthetic biologist on a mission to make DIY bio more accessible to everyone. His latest project is Indie Biotech Backbone, IndieBB for short. This project includes “a DNA system designed to help you and your friends to explore genetic engineering and synthetic biology by making fluorescent bacteria at home.” He’s got some creative ideas for DIY projects, including Hacking Your Own Fluorescent Yogurt and Biosynthesis of Insulin and Thyroxine.
Cathal has created a Technical FAQ about IndieBB that may answer some of your questions. If you haven’t been following his IndieGoGo campaign, this is a great opportunity to ask Cathal about the project (as well as as his other work).
In his own words:
I believe that biotechnology, being the oldest human technology and the one with the most potential for world-changing impact, belongs in the hands of individuals, not just corporations and government-funded institutes. Biotech can be used to create cheap antibiotics on-site in Africa, to create biofuels from household wastes, and to help us grow more food with less chemicals, water and land. However, there’s little commercial incentive to give us these freedoms; for the best of biotech to emerge, individuals and communities must be enabled to engineer life.
Worldwide, the DIYbio movement is taking hold and generating interest in community biotech. However, looking for tools and platforms for development can result in disappointment. Most available platforms are crude implementations of institutional techniques, requiring expensive ingredients and equipment and a lot of know-how.
I aim to provide affordable, open-source-DNA development platforms, kits and strains for beginners to learn the engineering of bacteria easily, and perhaps later to facilitate engineering of plants and simple bugs such as Sea Monkeys. I hope that through my efforts and those of my friends and collaborators, we can change the face of biotech, and perhaps change some lives for the better in the process.
Cathal Garvey is an independent synthetic biologist working in a converted bedroom in Cork, Ireland. His goal is a vibrant, patent-free, and open-source platform for biotechnology. This platform will allow anyone with the desire, even those without training, to explore (and possibly improve!) the living things that surround and support them.
Cathal’s past projects include Dremelfuge, a 3D-printable lab centrifuge rotor for common multitools, and PySplicer, a Free/Libre Software system for advanced genetic design. Cathal is currently crowdfunding for a genetic-engineering beginner’s kit, Indie Biotech Backbone, or “IndieBB”.
He tweets as @onetruecathal.