Creating a Community DIYbio Laboratory
If you haven’t already heard of BosLab, then where have you been! The community DIYbio lab based in Boston, USA focuses on molecular and synthetic biology, and offers a space to support individual biohacking projects.
Being situated in Boston means that they are at the centre of a major biotech hub, enabling them to attract members from all over the country. Alongside providing a space, they also offer an array of classes, seminars, journal and book clubs, as well as social events.
President, Angela Kaczmarczyk, told Front Line Genomics, “We provide a safe, inclusive space for anyone who wants to do biology research or biotech development.”
The lab is heavily community driven, and as a result a lot of their equipment is donated. “We’re located in Boston so as a community we’re lucky enough to exist within a thriving biotech economy,” explained Treasurer, Timothy Stiles. With an updated equipment wish list they will take almost anything, as long as it works and is easy to move.
He continued, “Most of our donations come to us from local companies and universities who reach out to us when trying to find a good home for loving used equipment that would otherwise be thrown out for one reason or another.”
During the past week, the lab has received such a large number of generous donation offers that they don’t have space to house them all. So, instead of letting them go to waste, they have created a bio wish list, so that the equipment can be distributed to other community bio labs.
With a heavy community focus, an openness to discuss projects is encouraged as well as making science fun. This resonates through their array of members, and what’s more is that you don’t need any qualifications to become a fully-fledged member. Some are complete beginners who are simply just curious about exploring the biotech field, some are experts in the field who want to share their knowledge, others come because they just want to play with science as a hobby, and others coming with an innovative idea, to make the proof of concept experiments.
Although the projects undertaken are usually very diverse, they almost always have some relation to molecular biology, synthetic biology, or microbiology. “Safety, logistics, and cost are also big unifying topics across all projects,” explained Stiles. “We require that every project conducted at BosLab is reviewed by an internal review board to make sure that we can accommodate projects before they are started.”
At present there are ten projects being worked on by members. Two are community projects that anyone can join. The first is an Open Yeast Engineering Project (OYEP), which is a group of people that get together and try to engineer yeast strains to produce interesting flavours, smells, colours, and molecules like beta carotene or banana flavour. The second is the Backyard Microbiome project, which aims to collect and sequence soil samples for interesting microbes. There are also members that are making educational videos, hacking probiotics, testing nanopore sequencers, giving research talks, hosting events, as well as hosting journal and book clubs.
Co-organiser and BosLab member, Raphael Laurenceau, let us in on some of the emerging trends that members tend to be focusing on. “The first one is the field of engineered probiotics. This involves engineering a probiotic bacterium to deliver a drug in the gut, or to act one the gut microbial community. The second one is more related to diagnostics, coming up with an easy to manufacture diagnostic device, typically for emergent disease, or find a way to take advantage of new sequencing technologies.”
With the organisation being volunteer-run, their biggest challenge is securing enough funding to grow and sustain. Kaczmarczyk noted, “Getting 501(c) (3) status will allow for us to apply for larger grants so that we can hire a full-time lab manager and keep the laboratory open with greater frequency.”
During the past weekend the laboratory tripled their bench and shelf space. With the hope of reaching more extensively into the community and to serve more non-scientists, and people that would not otherwise have access to biotechnology, they want to continue growing.
Stiles concluded, “My hope is that as we grow, BosLab can be an example to and help other DIYbio spaces that are just starting out. I also personally want to see and do more work with patient groups, religious communities, and marginalised communities.”
BosLab are recruiting new members, so if you’d like to become a part of this community, then visit their website here. Don’t forget that Timothy Stiles will be speaking at this year’s Festival of Genomics Boston, on 3rd October. Find out more about his talk here.