Friday, December 27, 2013

Synthetic Biology -- Are We There Yet?

The ultimate proof of concept regarding the promises of democratizing synthetic biology is the building from scratch of a DIYbio lab in the most unlikely of places. Our goal for 2014...

BIOlogy :: Those who know what synthetic biology is all about probably have sat through more than one optimistic presentation defining the concepts and heralding the promises of this new branch of science. We have heard (with envy) of DIYbio labs like New York City's GenSpace and Boston's BOSSLAB and of course all about MIT's iGEM competition each year.

At this point though, if someone wanted to climb aboard with synthetic biology, but had no access to a DIYbio lab or a properly equipped and staffed university, would they simply be out of luck?

One problem here in Thailand is that students who study genetics and bioengineering have nowhere to work once they graduate. The opportunities are very limited so sadly much of this talent either ends up going abroad or simply teaching the next generation of Thai scientists who inevitably will face the same problems here. If that is the fate of someone who has been professionally trained in bioengineering, what chance does a Thai citizen scientist have of ever getting involved in synthetic biology?

To help fix this problem and one of the goals of Helios Labs, is to create not only a foothold with which a bioengineering community can be built here, but a template people around the world can use to do the following:
  • Equip a DIYbio lab,
  • Learn the basic laboratory skills necessary to do synthetic biology,
  • Source and share DNA for projects and,
  • Design or find projects to actually do in a DIYbio lab.
Helios Labs at the moment consists of a collective of designers. None of us are geneticists or bioengineers, or scientists of any sort. If we can manage to do this, we are confident others can as well, but we want to make sure we do it right. Starting in 2014 we'll be putting up a new page for synthetic biology and using this page solely for hackerspace projects and news items.

We are currently contacting existing DIYbio labs for any advice they may have regarding:
  1. What projects are currently being done and what projects are practical/possible? 
  2. What equipment is necessary to do these projects?
  3. What training is required before attempting any of these projects?
  4. What sort of supervision is required to do both training and projects safely and responsibility?
  5. What are some ways of sourcing DNA for projects?
  6. What are some good ways of getting help from or coordinating with businesses & institutions?

The ultimate goal is to help contribute to scientific infrastructure that will produce more potential students who will go on to be professionally trained scientists and bioengineers. The more people that end up working in fields like gene therapy and synthetic biology professionally, the faster we will solve many critical problems these fields offer potential solutions for. Raising awareness and providing a venue for people to get interested in these fields is one of many ways this can be done.

If you see this post and would like to even answer just one of any of these questions, or provide any advice at all -- please do contact us! You can use the form here.

To date, we are arranging a meeting with a biology professor at one of the universities here to get some of their initial thoughts on this projects. We'll know what the next step is depending on what they say.

We plan on funding this ourselves and so we are not asking for grants or donations -- just advice. We will publish our findings and our process as we go along and hopefully by the end of the year we will have something to show others, perhaps a free PDF to serve as a guidebook on starting your own DIYbio lab.

 Thanks in advance and Happy New Year!