Biotinkering & DIYBio - 2011 in review

I've been meaning to summarize what happened in 2011 in the DIYBio and biotinkering sphere, and I finally got around to it. So here's the review of my personal year 2011.

First off, the main thing that happened in 2011, I think, is that both the global and the European community started connecting on a personal level. Which was awesome, and I hope this trend will continue in the future.

The first months, working alone

For the first few months of 2011, I was mostly tinkering on my own in the non-space in the old location of the Space Agency, a Berlin-based hackerspace (https://trac.raumfahrtagentur.org/). I was just trying to get my hands dirty, trying to get the basics to work, such as gel electrophoresis and PCR. After getting frustrated with my semi-functional old thermocycler, I had decided to fork out a substantial amount of money and buy a new one in late 2010, a 24-well Piko thermal cycler. Part of the reasoning in this was that the OpenPCR was still unavailable, and the Piko was small and light enough for me to carry around and take to workshops.

Freiburg geekend

I eventually made contact with another Berlin-based biohacker, Sascha, and another one in Freiburg, Ruediger. We agreed that it might be fun to have a geekend together, and so, in April, Sascha and I drove down to spend a weekend tinkering around in Ruediger's home lab. I had previously ordered a subset of the primers that are part of a standard DNA forensics kit, and Ruediger had ordered another subset of that. I brought my thermocycler and we had a lot of fun drooling into test tubes, testing Ruediger's custom-made electrophoresis power supply, trying out different DNA extraction methods and kits, and running gels to determine our personal DNA forensic profiles.

DIYBio Continental Congress

Shortly after that, in May, there was the DIYBio Continental Congress in London, initiated by Jason Bobe. I daresay that most of the European community was represented there (see my brief summary post here). While the point of the meeting was to work on a code of conduct for DIYBio and we didn't really get around to do much biotinkering, it was fantastic to finally meet everyone in person.

Hackteria Lab Retreat

After that, at the end of July, a motley crew of artists, engineers, hackers and whatnots gathered in an old monastery in Romainmotier, Switzerland, for the Hackteria Lab Retreat - among them Brian Degger and Mackenzie Cowell, the founder of DIYBio.org. I've also been told that it was the first time that all three of the marvellous founders of Hackteria, Marc Dusseiller (Zurich), Andy Gracie (Barcelona), and Yashas Shetty (Bangalore) happened to be in the same place at the same time. The people in attendance at this meeting were quite a different crowd than the ones in London, and the spirit of the event was much more anarchic and artistic. Apart from wandering the Swiss mountains and talking to the other participants, I mostly did conceptual work on the idea of a portable molecular biology lab - the lab-in-a-backpack. Which I need to do more work (and a write-up) on.

CCCamp and the wider hacker community

I also had nice chats about biotinkering at the German CCCamp in August, among others with members of the Metalab, where a group of interested people have started to gather and initiated the establishment of a biolab.

Building the new Space Agency lab

Sometime in May, the Space Agency had moved to a new and bigger location, and so for most of  the summer, I was busy converting a former restroom there to a small biolab. Which was a lot of work, but eventually yielded a small, but very useable little lab. Soon after I was done with that, I finally acquired an affordable spectrophotometer and spend a few weeks getting acquainted with it and reverse engineering its serial interface so I'd be able to do wavescans.

DIYBio UK Summit

Another memorable event was up in Octobre, the DIYBio UK Summit in Manchester. Once again, it brought together some of the European community, plus Sung and Oliver from Genspace, who had flown over from NYC for the occasion. There were several workshops - the one I joined centered around microbial fuel cells. It turned out that these are astonishingly easy to make, and I mentally filed MFCs as a good subject for future workshops to get people playing around with biotech at a low budget.

More interconnection - getting in touch with MIT's IIH

In Septembre, Jose Gomez-Marquez from MIT's Innovations in International Health Lab asked around on the DIYBio mailing list whether there where any biohackers in Berlin. We got in touch, and he generously gave a talk the the Space Agency about his work at the IIH, which was fascinating. I encourage everyone to have a look at their activities around collaborating with health professionals in third-world countries.

To be continued...

So, now 2011 is over, 2012 is upon us. What next? There are a few things I'd like to see/make happen in the next year:

1) Hold/organize more workshops and talks, DIYBio-wise. Genspace is my shining example here.
2) Work on my own projects - top on the list is the above-mentioned lab-in-a-backpack - ideally in cooperation with others.
3) Personal goal: Blog more :)
4) Collaborate more. One thing that's high on my list but is highly dependent on my always-tight time budget: Go visit Cathal Garvey of Indie Biotech. Not sure that's going to happen, as I have other things lined up for 2012 that look to be very time-intensive.
5) Possibly find more collaborators in Berlin, and build up a bigger space together - while the lab at the Space Agency is nice and cute, it can hardly accommodate two people working at the same time, and hence is spectacularly unsuitable for workshops or several people working together.
6) Explore the possibilities of biotinkering within the frame of German law if you don't have an S1 license - DNA analysis, metagenomics experiments, and RNA interference experiments come to mind here.
7) Visit some other biohacking spaces, if time permits it. High on my list are Genspace in NYC, Biocurious in the Bay Area, Nullspace in LA, Lapaillasse in Paris, and BiologiGaragen in Copenhagen.

So. Those were my thoughts on 2011 as far as I could scrape them together. I'd love to see others from the community post their summaries of the past year and their plans for the coming one.

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