Learn the Science Behind DIYbio

Bioluminescent JellyfishEveryone wants to create a glowing fish on the first day. Everyone. But to truly master biohacking in a way that will allow you to develop and design your own hacks (or even understand what’s going on while that machine spins on the table), then you’re going to have to know the science behind the art.

Here are some free resources to help you learn more about the science. I’ve broken it down into fun, junk food style learning of cool videos on YouTube and such to serious academic resources to get you more acquainted with the field. Why did I spend forever writing this page? Because I couldn’t find any real road map to learn what DIYbio and biohacking was all about when I got started. Enjoy.


Learn the Hardcore Science at the Foundation of Biohacking

Learn Chemistry

I know, I know. You’re here to learn biohacking, not chemistry. I’ve got news for you. Can’t have one without the other. In fact, some universities require that you first take chemistry and organic chemistry before taking microbiology. This page is all about building a strong scientific basis for meddling with genes, pathways, and signalling, so you’d better understand the interactions of electrons and elements if you ever hope to understand cellular respiration and the electron chain transport.

MIT’s OpenCourseWare (Free):

OWC is MIT’s effort to get their classes and educational excellence onto the internet. You won’t get a degree here, but you will get to essentially audit their classes. The good is that it’s for free. The bad is that there are only some classes that will seem like actual classes (i.e. they have the lectures recorded and materials all together for you). Check it out here.

Khan Academy (Free):

Khan Academy Logo

If you don’t know about the Khan Academy, you should. Basically this highly educated man learned the joys of teaching as he helped his nephews learn basic math (around algebra level). He quite his day job and has since turned his passion for teaching into a free-of-charge educational empire. Here are two courses that will help you gain a solid background in chemistry:

Basic Chemistry (1st year of college level)

Organic Chemistry (college level)


Coursera (Free and Paid):

CourseraAccording to Wikipedia: “Coursera is a for-profit educational technology company founded by computer science professors Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller from Stanford University that offers massive open online courses.” From my own experience, Coursera courses usually have free courses with an option to pay for the opportunity to earn a certificate in a class. Please note: a certificate is not a degree, nor is it credit towards a degree. Having that aside, here are a few classes that Coursera has for chemistry. Oh, actually, last note: Coursera classes run in blocks. That means that you have to start with the class, turn in any quizes and assignments on time, etc, to actually participate. If the last block just ended or the next hasn’t started, you are out of luck and must wait.

Coursera Chemistry Courses (at the time of this publication):

  • Preparation for General Chemistry (Rutgers University)
  • Introduction to Chemistry: Reactions and Rations (Duke University)
  • General Chemistry (from Peking University)
  • Chemicals and Health (from John Hopkins University)
  • Chemistry: Concept Development and Application Part I (with John Steven Hutchinson)
  • Chemistry: Concept Development and Application Part II (with John Steven Hutchinson)
  • Analytical Chemistry/Instrument Analysis (with Vicki Colvin)
  • Comprehensive Organic Chemistry (from Peking University)
  • Advanced Chemistry (from University of Kentucky)


Learn Biology and Microbiology

Advanced Stuff by MIT OpenCourseWare (Free):

You can jump straight to the advanced biochemistry with some MIT Opencourseware. They have 88 undergraduate classes and 16 graduate level classes available. That’s the good news. The bad news is that very few of them have videos of class lectures and lots of the reading material that you would need to read for the class is behind a paywall that you can’t get past without being enrolled in a university or ponying up some money for an issue. If you’re like me and a few notes on a class is not enough, jump straight to the audio/video lectures for bioengineering and biology.

Khan Academy (Free):

Khan Academy Logo

Back to the Khan Academy. I hope they expand their selection here, because as of right now they only have a biology course. I”m including it because, once again, many colleges require you to take biology before you can jump into microbiology. Biology encompasses a much larger scope, including the ecosystem level down to the organ level before we get to the microscopic level of cells and enzymes, but I would argue that it is also an important foundation. If you’re looking to do some real biohacking, you better have a concept of how it could affect an organism at the system level or many organisms at the ecosystem level.

Biology (1st year of college level)



Coursera (Free and Paid):

CourseraCoursera’s courses on biology and microbiology aren’t quite as impressive, but then again, biology covers a lot of ground. From viruses to systems biology, to the microbiome. The only discouraging thing here is that there wasn’t actually a good introductory microbiology course. They definitely did have very in-depth stuff, like Virology I or Programmed Cell Death, but these are small slivers of microbioloby and probably would require microbiology as a pre-req (though I haven’t checked, so don’t take my word for it).

Coursera Courses on Biology/Microbiology:

  • Gut Check: Exploring Your Microbiome
  • Drug Discovery, Development & Commercialization (wth Williams S. Ettouati & Joseph D. Ma)
  • Nanotechnology and Nanosensors (with Hossam Haick)
  • Epidemics – The Dynamics of Infectious diseases (with lots of contributing professors)
  • Virology I: How Viruses Work (from Columbia University)
  • Useful Genetics Part 1
  • Programmed Cell Death (with Barbara Conradt)
  • Bioinformatics: Introduction and Methods (from Peking University)
  • Bioinformatics: Life Sciences on Your computer (with Bob Lessick)
  • Bioinformatics Methods I (from University of Toronto)
  • Mathematical Biostatistics Boot Camp 1 (from Johns Hopkins University)


Learn about the Biohacking Culture, Undertakings, and Community

BioCoder (Free):

BioCoder Biohacking Magazine

This is still in the “hardcore” section, so don’t be expecting any cute memes or anything ridiculous like that. This is still not light reading. One of my favorite resources so far has been a publication (free digital copies at the point of this writing) called BioCoder. You can find links to their four issues of BioCodoer here.

Their current list of publications includes Fall 2013, Winter 2013, Spring 2014, and Summer 2014.

A fair warning: some of the articles are easily understood by the neophyte and some of them will be a bit advanced for people new to this area. One thing that is awesome, regardless of your chemistry or microbiology background, is how plugged in these guys are to the biohacking community. Many of the articles are written either by people who basically started DIYbio in the first place or by PhDs who are helping the movement.


Additional Resources for Learning the Science behind DIYbio:


This post already feels monstrous to me, and if you’ve made it this far, then congratulate yourself because this page is over 1,000 words long. For the sake of brevity, I’ll simply say this: there are a lot more Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) platforms and programs out there. We looked at Coursera and Khan Academy, but there is also edX.com. EdX.com has a ton of chemistry and biology classes as well. So if you are truly looking to build a strong foundation, check out the courses they have available. Chances are that there will be some that interest you. In addition, you may find a class that is starting soon, so you don’t have to wait two months for the next round at Coursera. Same goes for the reverse.

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