[hackerspaces] Genspace opening hits Wired
kanzure at gmail.com
Fri Dec 17 01:15:57 CET 2010
On Thu, Dec 16, 2010 at 5:46 PM, Ellen Jorgensen wrote:
DIY Biotech Hacker Space Opens in NYC
NEW YORK — On the top floor of an old bank converted into an artist
collective, just past prop design for Bjork’s next music video, the
do-it-yourself biotechnology revolution has begun.
A cadre of science entrepreneurs recently opened Genspace, the world’s first
government-compliant community biotech laboratory. The bedroom-sized
facility was two years in the making and, for a $100-per-month membership,
anyone can use the space for whatever experiments they dream up.
“If you work in a university lab, you have to do what your adviser tells you
to do,” said Genspace co-founder Dan Gruskhkin, a freelance journalist and
self-described science enthusiast. “Here, you work under mentors and can do
things you’re interested in immediately.”
The small space is made of found parts. A sliding patio door, Plexiglas
panels and old wire screens enclose the lab, and stainless steel restaurant
tables serve as lab benches.
The lab’s glassware, micropipettes, centrifuges, electrophoresis machines,
incubators, microscopes and other scientific equipment were donated.
Genspace president and co-founder Ellen Jorgensen, a biomedical researcher
at New York Medical College, used to work for Vector Research Ltd. and got
the company to donate the gear after they shut down a facility.
The lab may be cobbled together, but biosafety officers approved it as
compliant with the Center for Disease Control’s biosafety level 1
regulations. That’s a big difference between Genspace and D.I.Y. labs
crammed into closets and garages across the country, says Jorgensen, and a
“Most biological experiments are not one-offs. They’re continuous processes
that last more than one day,” Jorgensen said. Before Genspace’s lab was
built, she, Grushkin and two other founders set up labs in their living
rooms using plastic tarps. After each experiment, however, they had to be
torn down, decontaminated and thrown away.
“Now we have a secure lab space where we can do quality, professional-level
science,” Jorgensen said.
Out of concerns for bioterrorism and illegal drug production, the FBI and
New York Police Department were initially alarmed by the idea of a public
biotech lab in they city. But Grushkin says a lot of sit-down meetings with
the agencies have convinced them.
“The FBI now uses pictures of our space to show people what a
[methamphetamine] drug lab doesn’t look like,” Grushkin said. One of their
FBI contacts even showed up at the space’s grand opening last week to
Genspace’s seven current lab members already have projects underway,
including a biofuel algae experiment and a bacteria-powered arsenic
detection kit. Grushkin plans to create transgenic, multi-colored
microganisms that will “race” across a growth plate, primarily for fun but
also for educational purposes. Jorgensen wants to use the new space to
support personal genetic testing.
“I like the idea of a community lab where somebody can go to test themselves
for a gene that may predispose them to a disease,” Jorgensen said. “I think
people have a right to get their DNA without involving a doctor.”
Grushkin says another purpose of Genspace, now under review for non-profit
status, is to help inner city schools bolster their science curricula.
“We’re working with students from Hofstra University on Long Island to get
their twelve-dollar digital microscope into classrooms,” Grushkin said. The
microscope can blow objects up to 170x magnification and stream a video feed
to the Web. Similar devices typically cost hundreds of dollars, Grushkin
Genspace also has programs designed to bring science to the public.
Literally, in some cases.
“One thing we did was extract DNA from strawberries in a public park,”
Grushkin said. “You should have heard some of the things people said, like,
‘Ew, DNA is gross!’”
Such educational stunts provide a premium opportunity to start life-changing
conversations about science, Jorgensen says, and empower people with
Genspace opened their doors on Dec. 10, and Wired.com was in attendance.
Peek inside of the D.I.Y. lab here.
Images: A biofuel algae experiment. Credit: Dave Mosher/Wired.com
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