BioCoder published instructions for a DIY gene gun not too long ago. We’ve featured BioCoder in a few places on this website (including our Learn the Science behind DIY bio), and we’ve done so because the people at BioCoder do awesome work. Their publication is a great introduction to synthetic biology and DIYbio for people who have at least a moderate understanding of biology. Seriously, if you are not reading their stuff, you are missing out. It’s free to download (here’s the link to all the issues they’ve published).
So, back to the DIY gene gun. A gene gun is a device that allows you to get foreign DNA into a target cell. So let’s say you are trying to program a cell to glow green if it is in the presence of a toxin. A yeast cell or bacterial cell isn’t going to do this on its own. It needs to be “programmed” or in other words given the DNA to be able to first sense the toxin then report the toxin by activating a fluorescent mechanism. All of these steps require DNA, but how do you get the DNA inside the cell? Enter the gene gun.
I’ll forgo going into too much detail on the gene gun simply because BioCoder does an awesome job detailing everything from its history to its advantages. For instance, while some ways of getting genes inside a cell are closely and carefully regulated by the FDA, gene guns are not. So for a DIY bio enthusiast, you can have free reign on your experiments and not have to worry about a three letter agency breaking down your door. Simply build your DIY gene gun, save 20,000 dollars in the process, and start hacking away carefree.
BioCoder’s DIY Gene Gun Issue
The DIY gene gun tutorial can be found in their Spring 2016 issue. As I mentioned before, it’s free to download or $5 if you want a printed copy. The easiest way to get to the tutorial is via this page where they simply posted the article online separately (convenient for our purposes). Their step by step instructions are fantastic as well- on par with some of the best ones we’ve seen. For this reason alone, I didn’t go searching too hard for other options. In fact, this is probably the first DIY lab equipment page we’ve done that doesn’t have an array of DIY options to choose from with the strength and weakness of each dutifully detailed out for you to see. Long story short, they have a brief list of parts (see below) and teach you how to make the base, do the wiring, set-up and actually test the system.
A quick caveat. They allude to the fact that the design needs some tweaking, or at least that you’ll need to adjust things as you go. They had only 1 of 40 delivery attempts that were successful. They indicated that they’d keep playing around with the design, but it’s been about a year, and as I can tell you, other projects pile on and sometimes things are forgotten. Also, the experiment that they run uses GFP, which means they used a fluorescent microscope to check it out. I have a post in the hopper on a DIY fluorescent microscope, but it’s not ready yet. In the meantime, either you’ll have access to one or you’ll have to do something that doesn’t involve a fluorescent reporter.
Either way, a big shout-out to the people at BioCoder for an awesome addition to the DIY lab equipment list we’ve built out. The DIY gene gun opens up a lot of new experiments and finally helps blend two of the main focuses of DIY-bio.com, namely DIY bio and synthetic biology.