Makerspace Movement Makes Its Way into the Biotechnology Sphereadmin September 16, 2014
Makerspaces are putting innovation back into the hands of the public, and we’re happy to see the maker movement being embraced by the world of bioscience.
Innovating starts with a great idea, but there are many barriers to entry that make it difficult for entrepreneurs to get a foothold, especially in the bioscience field. Even with an amazing startup support network, entrepreneurs have a long list of expensive and time consuming needs: securing funding, purchasing expensive equipment, finding suitable facilities, conducting research, and getting permission and certification to do, well, anything.
What are makerspaces?
Think of a makerspaces as a “do it yourself” workshop for technology-based creations. This is a worldwide movement that is having a real impact on business and policy-making (get a quick overview here). Some makerspaces are membership-based and host workshops and community events. Hobbyists and professionals collaborate on projects related to electronics, robotics, 3-D printing, and even traditional metalworking, woodworking, and arts and crafts. Strong community cultures surround makerspaces, and real ground-breaking technologies emerge.
Bio-based Startups – a Unique Need
Bio-based startups have unique needs compared to other tech. Often, IT startups can begin and grow out of someone’s basement, but bio-based startups require very expensive equipment, long periods of time for R&D and business development, and don’t forget the time and money needed to secure licences or certifications.
DIYBio and “Biohacking”
In the simplest sense, hacking involves taking something apart and putting it back together in different ways. Hence, “biohacking”. In nearly 50 cities across North America and Europe, biohackers are spending time in in amateur laboratories to meet and experiment. “Our goal is not only to advance biology, but democratize it,” explains Ellen Jorgensen, president of Genspace, a community laboratory in Brooklyn established in 2009 that serves as a model for dozens of similar spaces around the world (source).
The movement is based around the premise that “biology is technology” – DNA is a form of software that can be manipulated to design biological processes and devices. While some groups focus on synthetic biology, others use “biotinkering” to get creative with food and drink, arts and crafts, and more. The website and community DIYbio.org maintains a very activeblog and provides a platform for asking safety questions to a panel of experts. Pictured: LA Biohackers using Arduino to measure electrical signals produced by muscles.
Biohackers are finding that equipment that is normally very expensive is now accessible to the public – many machines can be built with off-the-shelf parts and many pieces of equipment go for cheap on eBay when commercial labs shut down. Some groups have even built their own PCR machines for copying DNA segments. (source)
Makers in New Brunswick
New Brunswick is home to a rich network of “biohackers” at all levels of professionalism and legitimacy, and each is more passionate than the last. From the most respected government researcher to the guy brewing beer in his backyard, biotechnology is happening everywhere and can be accessible to all. Common items that we take for granted every day like cheese, perfumes, and even recyclable plastic bottles are all examples of biotech in action!
BioNB gets to watch biotechnology startups grow every day, most of whom are innovating with our forests, marine life, water, soil, and other natural resources. A mobilized grassroots bioscience community could provide more flexible options for the casual biohacker, spur innovation in a very lucrative sector, and get young people interested in science.
New Brunswick is already home to makerspaces in Saint John Moncton andFredericton where members of the community can attend workshops or just stop by to tinker. The maker culture is alive and growing in our province, and BioNB encourages young people, hobbyists, and professionals to continue sharing their knowledge and passion for all things technology. Pictured: the Fredericton Makerspace.