It’s time to get in to the nitty gritty. You’ve decided to get your hands dirty, but which of the many DIYbio projects will you tackle? How will you find one that is at your level of understanding/expertise? Where to get the instructions? Well, first of all, you can probably narrow all of the DIYbio projects by looking at the required hardware/goods that are needed. If you have access to a lab, then anything is fair game. If you don’t have access to a lab, you may want to start with building some DIYbio lab equipment as your first project. I’ll be building this list (and the hardware list) over time, mostly by culling from and consolidating materials from around the web. An obvious disclaimer: you may be working with everything from electronics to saws to chemicals, so handle with care, and always take the necessary precautions before you start a project. This can mean proper protective gear (goggles, lab coat, gloves, etc), to simply having someone show you how to use a jigsaw before you pick one up and decide to start cutting materials up.
Citizen Science Projects (Easy)
- Help Discover New Antibiotics
- Mapping Soil Bacteria Diversity
- Eve Online’s Project Discovery which helps with the Human Protein Atlas
DIYbio Projects (Intermediate)
CRISPR Project from The Odin
This project is likely what most people are thinking about when they are wanting to tackle a DIY biology project. You get to do real life genetic engineering and synthetic biology in your home and do so using the latest gene editing technique: CRISPR. Now CRISPR has already gone through a lot of changes since it first hit the scene a few years ago. Scientists can now use it to change a single nucleotide in a genome. That being said, it’s hype is still being debated even while it is enjoying the spot light. But enough about CRISPR in general, it deserves a post of its own (several posts actually).
This project is brought to you by the good folks of The Odin. The Odin was started by Josiah Zayner, a synthetic biologist who recently worked at NASA and left because NASA was too constraining for him. He’s a man of bid ideas and a lot of talent. He’s helped organize biohacking conventions, regularly discusses topics crazy intriguing topics such as curing dog breeds of genetic defects that they’ve acquired through generations of restrictive breeding. (All right, Josiah deserves a post of his own as well, for real, though, on to the project).
The Odin sells a few genetic engineering products. These are all in one kits designed to have everything you need to complete the project, from the DNA down to the nitrile gloves. His kits will have you genetically engineering bacteria or yeast to express green fluorescent protein (GFP) and thus fluorescing green under a UV light. He also sells a kit that can be used with common baker’s yeast, touting that you can brew fluorescent beer. The project takes about 10 hours and 2 days and The Odin provides a thorough lab protocol. A quick note, this doesn’t glow in the dark, it fluoresces. Think of what a black light does to your teeth or to clothing. Your shoe laces aren’t actually glow in the dark, but they look dramatically different under a black light. Anyway, while I need to do a post on this one alone, I have put this off for too long and have had a lot of visitors come and go without telling them about this DIYbio project, so this short write-up is me kicking myself for that and promising to do better for you guys and gals.
Ghostheart / Decellularized Organ:
Here’s the basic rundown on this project. Scientists from Michigan State University discovered that if they used certain chemicals and washing procedures, they could remove the cells from an organ, like, let’s say, a heart. You may have thought that a heart was composed entirely of cells in the first place, so if you remove the cells, what do you have left? But actually, there is an extra-cellular matrix composed of various proteins that acts as the scaffolding that the cells have created to more ore less latch on to. If you remove all the cells (and therefore all of the DNA), you are left with the scaffolding only.
The hope is that some time down the road that these ghost organs can be used as transplant organs for those needing them by seeding the ghost organs with the waiting patient’s own cells. This would effectively make it so that they are receiving a heart (or other organ) that is entirely made of their own DNA, which eliminates the risk of rejection. Plus, and in an entirely Dr. Frankenstein sort of eerie way, you could theoretically use the heart of a pig and place it in a human, since pig hearts are of similar size and functional capacity.