DIYBIO – FBI Outreach Conference, San Fransisco

Actually, we were in Walnut Creek, but it is close enough to call it San Fransisco!

As it turns out, the FBI and other defense organizations (Hello, DTRA) are pretty interested in DIYBIO.  Coming away from the conference, it seems like the FBI is  interested in exactly what you would expect: preventing bad guys (nefarious actors!) from doing Bad Things.  The Defense Threat Reduction Agency on the other hand, is interested in buying technology from people who start in “garages”, or DIY environments, to use for defense work.

The room was pretty full! I didn’t know there were this many diybiologists!  (some of these people are FBI agents/wmd coordinators.  Hard to tell the difference in this photo)

The main focus of the conference was on the interaction between law enforcement and DIY biologists.  It seems to be that the FBI is not concerned with DIY biologists, and that the FBI certainly does not view the DIYBIO “movement” as a threat.  The position of the Bureau is that local DIYBIO folks should get a hold of their local WMD coordinator,  It was also reassuring to know that the FBI hires PHD biologists and a lot of scientists to work in their WMD department- it would be nice if policy makers were just as well informed.

There was also a good discussion about the media- it turns out that both the FBI and DIYBIO folks both tend to kind of dislike the media, because as one attendee put it “They overestimate our abilities, and underestimate our ethics”.  There were some good talks given on how to engage the press in a a way that cannot be misconstrued, and how to do due diligence when someone wants to cover your space.  Rachel had an anecdote from when the BBC approached them to do a piece on the DIYBIO activities at MADLAB/MCR:

The approach that we got. we are interested in debate, is't that lovely, PCR machines, exclamation points. This is what we read: we're going to do a piece on bioterror and flu virus research. And we knew that, we knew that we were going to be portrayed as extreme. We're the only group that can kind of say these things, we weren't the right people, but we were going to be their people anyway, and it was. This is what showed up in the BBC website.. "growing concern about DIYbio.. FBI, oh there you are". Biological threat, all in the same sentence.
( quote from transcript typed by Bryan Bishop )

I thought it was very useful that we had Dan Grushkin, Rachel Turner, and Sascha Karburg -who have both done quite a bit of journalism- to tell us how the journalism works.  It is important to have both sides of the story to really understand what is going on, so DIYers can engage the press more tactfully.

Speaking of Sascha, we got to enjoy his documentary on DIYBIO at the end of the first day.  After a few years in the making, it looked pretty awesome!  I didn’t understand what they were saying most of the time, as it was in German, but the images definitely told a story.

I think that the highlight of the conference was finally seeing who was out there, and what they were up to.  If you want, you can read transcripts here, courtesey of Brian Bishop.

countries from left to right:
USA, The Netherlands (behind the benches), Finland, Denmark, Germany, Turkey

The last day we all went down to Biocurious to play with some DNA.  Biocurious walked everyone through the basic procedure for a chemical transformation, but the real highlight here was working with people from other places, and actually building a plasmid with the Genomikon kit.

Overall it was fun to meet everyone, and exciting to see what the rest of the diybio folks are up to.  I think finally meeting the European counterparts helped bring the community together.  And it was certainly good to learn that the FBI won’t be knocking on our door any time soon.

FBI-DIYBIO Outreach Workshop

I have been invited to California to the FBI-DIYBIO outreach workshop.  Day one is tomorrow.  As I sit here slurping at the last of of my large java-chip frappacino (with whipped cream) at Bryant and Mariposa, I have to say that I am pretty psyched to see Biocurious, and meet all the other DIYBIO folks to compare notes.  I will be posting my notes here on what happens!

How Do I Get Started In DIYBIO?

A lot of people have been asking “How do I get started in DIYBIO?”.  The answer is not easy.  Biology is a broad field, ranging from studying entire ecosystems, to the chemicals that allow life to continue.  But I have done my fair share of DIY molecular biology, and I have begun to write up protocols and reviews of equiptment- which I will begin to share on this site on the DIYBIO protocols page, and on BOSSLAB.

Enjoy!  More posts on how to get started to come.

Genomes, Environments and Traits Confrence!

Jason Bobe moderates a discussion with George Church and Geraldine Hamilton about personalized medicine microfluidic devices

Today I attended the Genomes Environments and Traits Conference.  It was awesome!  There were talks on all manner of technical breakthroughs from faster and cheaper sequencing, to single-cell sequencing (WITH 3D protein/DNA localization on the intracellular level!!!), to hackable drug delivery kits for 3rd world countries.

The more exciting part for me personally was running into all kinds of DIYBiologists.  It was awesome to finally meet them in person!  Ellen Jorgensen from GeneSpace was there, as well as Joseph Jackson from BioCurious, and (obviously) Jason Bobe from the Personal Genome Project.  There were also some people from the BOSSLAB group there (woo! not sure if they want to be mentioned by name).  I even found somebody from Olins’ neighbor college, Wellesley, and I spotted at least one Babson Jacket in the crowd.

Anyways, this conference got me more excited about biology and science, and this summer at BOSSLAB.

Mini-Maker Faire @ Cambridge Science Festival!

Really bad photo. I apologize…

I was at the mini-maker faire today representing DIYBIO Boston, and all I got was this really bad photo…

Just kidding!  I also talked to a bunch of AWESOME MAKERS and excited participants.  I even got to help Gui and Molly of Artisans Asylum lift a giant motorized barbers chair onto a truck, and see a bunch of <6 year olds run dyes from M&Ms in agarose gels.

If you are looking for my bio work because you met me at the festival, click here to see the things I have done with biology.

GFP Project Week Three: DNA!

Lets DIYBIO!

Well, the GFP Project has come full circle.  It started out about a month ago with the idea that a few people could get together and do some science together.  I would say that it has been a success.  In the past few weeks we have covered what I believe to be the “Hello World” of DIYBIO, which is to transform a plasmid into a bacteria, do something with the modified bacteria, and then get the plasmid back out.  Yesterday we closed the loop and extracted the plasmid.

Overnight Culture

The plasmid extraction went smoothly.  The Idea behind plasmid extraction is pretty simple, and it starts with an overnight culture.

Spun down cells

Then we centrifuge the tubes to pellet the cells.  This allows us to pour off the supernatant, as the cells will stick to the bottom of the eppendorfs.  The next step is to re-suspend the cells in “resuspension buffer”.

Resuspended Cells

Here are some resuspended cells!  Looking pretty good.  This is necessary so that the next few buffers can get to all the cells.

Lysed Cells

Here the cells are lysed.  As you can see, the lysis buffer seems to denature the GFP, as the tube is no longer very green.  The lysis allows the plasmid DNA to get out of the cell, and it also helps break down the genomic dna.  The plasmid DNA is a little tougher because of its circular shape.

Halted Lysis

Now we halt the lysis, and this causes a change in the solubility (and probably pH and salinity), causing the extra cell ‘junk’ to fall out of solution.  As you can see, the GFP has returned!

Pelleted Cell Debris

Now we pellet the cell debris in the centrifuge.  This should get rid of quite a bit of the cell debris, leaving us with the plasmid DNA and some other junk in solution.

Spin Column

The supernatant (liquid) in the tube with the pelleted cell lysate is applied to the top of the spin column, and then centrifuged so that the DNA is bound to the matrix (solid white stuff) in the column.  Whatever passes through is junk.  To remove some of the other cell bits stuck to the column, two “wash” buffers are applied to the top of the column and centrifuged through the column.  This removes other chemicals that have a negative charge like DNA, but that are not DNA.

Elution!

The final step is to elute the plasmid DNA from the column by applying (you guessed it) an elution buffer.  This washes the DNA out of the column.  In this picture, the spin column has been placed in a clean eppendorf that will hold the final purified plasmid DNA solution.

Purified plasmid DNA

Once centrifuged, you have purified plasmid DNA!

 

The GFP Project: One Step Backward, Two Steps Forward

Oops.  After a week off for spring break, I returned to the GFP project and realized we had to do another transformation, because last time we had accidentally used up all our stocks of transformed bacteria.

So we did another transformation, and we also plated some of the leftover bacteria we had on a plate from the first transformation.  Hopefully we can use one of these sources to grow an overnight culture and extract GFP from.

We also had some interesting visitors!  We had Jonathan, an anthropologist in the science and technology field, who knew Mac Cowell from way back, and that we had some DIYBIO screens hidden away at BOSSLAB!  Time to make some T-Shirts!

We also had Kris Constable and Megan who are starting BioSpace, a which is exactly what it sounds like (a bio-hackerspace) up in Canada.  It was cool to meet international DIYBIO folks!

The other good news is that the stickers are finally in the envelopes and addressed!  They should go out this week.