What would happen if everyone could participate in hands-on synthetic biology? Community BioLab is an open-access laboratory facility created within Science Gallery that is hoping to answer that question. Using borrowed, recycled and home-built equipment, it recreates a typical do-it-yourself biology (DIYbio) lab and brings synthetic biology to the public. This lab reframes the laboratory as a shared space, deliberately informal and inviting rather than sterile and cloistered. Through audience participation, the intention is to demystify synthetic biology and radically lower the barrier to participation in modern bioscience, allowing anyone to innovate and explore. This environment also encourages thoughtful examination and discussion of the implications and ethical questions surrounding cutting-edge DNA-based technologies.
The DIYbio movement, a global community that connects people and non-institutional labs, hackspaces and home practitioners, is enabled by the abstraction component of synthetic biology: a person does not have to be a biologist to build a biological machine. Community lab spaces support not only science research projects, but also artists who want to incorporate synthetic biology into their work. By engaging the public directly through hands-on participation, it is hoped that a dialogue will be opened around synthetic biology that will be founded on knowledge and understanding.
During the course of GROW YOUR OWN..., the Community BioLab will be inhabited by various DIYbio practitioners who will work on their own projects and also provide opportunities for public participation through workshops and discussions. Curated in part by Ellen Jorgensen, the director of the world’s first community biolab, Genspace, the lab will play host to synbio and open source biology groups including Hackteria, Genspace, (Art)ScienceBLR, La Paillasse, and MadLab. Artists and scientists will include Christina Agapakis, Sissel Tolaas, Conor Courtney, and GROW YOUR OWN… curator Cathal Garvey. This collection of international and local artists, scientists, biohackers and synthetic biologists will take up week-long residencies in the lab, offering the public unique and varied opportunities to participate in real synthetic biology research, experiments, and workshops.
Synthetic biology was, in part, responsible for the rise of the DIYbio movement. If you make reading and writing ‘the code of life’ easier for nonbiologists, like engineers and computer scientists, then you also make it easier for everyone. The concept of DIYbio was promoted by people who had participated in the iGEM competition and wanted to keep inventing new and better biological machines in their spare time. Creating community lab spaces and reverse-engineering lab equipment were logical next steps, since shared infrastructure lowers the cost of doing synthetic biology.