How about pursuing biology as a hobby? The DIY Bio

We are all aware of the DIY culture pervasive in computer programming and IT. 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 freshman year of engineering with a few of my classmates following the tutorials on ‘Engineering Explained’ and ‘How Stuffs Work‘.

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

What Is DIY Bio?

Manu Prakash, an alumnus of Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, invented Paperfuge, taking inspiration from a toy ‘Lattu’ in Hindi, otherwise called ‘Whirligig’. 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.

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

I believe that 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.

George Church, pioneer of DIY Bio
Open PCR Machine is a biohacking example

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

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 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 school kid can build his own bot without the need for expert help.

This is exactly what the ‘DIY Bio’ revolution seeks to achieve. 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 and Biohacking?

Biohacking has led to Customized test tube holders that can be turned to a centrifuge
Customized Test tube Holder That Can Be Turned To A Centrifuge

One of the best ways to promote 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 lab catering to tinkerers or communities in Europe or Asia like bioCURIOUS.

BioCurious is the World’s First Biohackers’ workspace. Built in the Heart of Silicon Valley, this biohacking lab is operated by 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.

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 in 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 different perspective.

SurajPanigrahi

1 thought on “How about pursuing biology as a hobby? The DIY Bio

  1. Hello Sir
    I am actually interested in the field of Biomedical Engineering. After a lot of digging I got hold of this website through your quora. I request you to kindly help me out on how can I get into this field.

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