BioTechniques, Vol. 63, October 2017, pp. 152–156


Sarah Webb explores how DIYbio strategies are helping biologists in traditional labs do better science.

Sophisticated microscopes, DNA sequencers, and a range of prepared kits and reagents have become mainstays of the modern life science laboratory. These tools allow researchers to carry out complicated experiments quickly and conveniently. But the development of such easy-to-use aides comes with some downsides. In addition to purchase and maintenance costs, specialized instruments and assay kits are often mysterious sealed containers accompanied by an instruction manual. Users don’t truly understand how they are assembled or how they work, which can cause problems when things go wrong.

“When something doesn’t work, or there is something unexpected, you cannot figure out what is going on because you are working with things that you don’t master,” says Gianpaolo Rando, a biotechnologist who is the chief technology officer and co-founder of a startup company called SwissDeCode.

As high-end laboratory tools become more sophisticated, a wave of DIYbio or biohacking initiatives and communities have sprung up around the globe to support biology research outside the traditional halls of academia and industry. Biohackers come from many corners of society: artists and designers interested in exploring scientific tools, hobbyist scientists, students, educators, and professional researchers who are looking for a creative outlet outside of their primary…

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