We wanted it to be something that somebody who maybe is curious about the subject but doesnt have the formal training and might otherwise be a bit scared off feels, Oh, this is friendly, this is for me, explained Philipp boeing, co-founder of Bento bioworks. Bento pre-sold 400 labs at nearly 1,300, about one-tenth of the cost of a traditional lab set-up, and theyre delivering the devices next month. The hobby sets arent cheap, but they represent a cracking open of a once-cloistered field of knowledge. There is a precedent for this. Portable chemistry sets were first developed at the end of the 18th century, used by amateur scientists and professionals alike; the version aimed at budding young chemists took off in the early 1900s. By the 1960s, however, safety concerns — sodium cyanide is, after all, a deadly poison, and radioactive uranium ore is, well, radioactive — prompted a crackdown that pushed all but the most mundane chemistry sets off toy shelves by the 1980s. However perilous at-home chemical reactions are, genetics feels different, more personal. Chemistry sets could build bombs. Tinkering dissertation with dna could change evolution — couldnt it?
The cost of dna analysis is steadily declining, while techniques are improving. Theres a massive global consumer genetic testing market — everything from ancestry to shakespeare bespoke diets and customized cosmetics — now pushing past 340 million. Its creating new areas of study and use, such as the ever-growing bank of dna barcodes, the short genetic sequences unique to individual species and organisms that are helping to ferret out fraudulent fish and identify the presence of harmful bacteria in food supply chains. While much of this is happening in funded labs — businesses, academia, governments — its also created an opening for the diy biologist. Community biolabs are popping up across the globe. Genspace is a brooklyn biolab that offers afternoon byos (bring your own sample) dna barcoding workshops and pcr pizza nights, while biocurious (get it?) in Santa Clara, calif., hosts corporate retreats and workshops. At BosLab in Somerville, citizen-scientist members are analyzing the dna of truffles and talking microbes over beer nights. Bento lab is of a piece with this democratization.
Rando placed beer decoded on Kickstarter in 2015 and drew enough backers — and 12,700 — to sequence (and drink) 39 different brews. Related Links, read Story, extinction is a bummer. Lets bring back the dead. Some scientists want to revive the passenger pigeon and the woolly mammoth. Using the worlds first portable dna lab to sequence beer is a cool thing. A lot of people like beer, and getting to know it better is inherently appealing. But the ability to sequence dna in your living room has staggering implications for the planet and humanitys place. Right now, molecular biology is in the middle of a popular renaissance.
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To create a genetic tree of beers? For fun, he said. But his lab at the University of Geneva in Switzerland wasnt interested in beer. So rando turned to public biology labs that had the kind of equipment he needed. I was curious to see whether I could do the same things I was doing in the lab but without the lab, he said. What he found, through lausanne-based community biolab Hackuarium, was the opportunity to test something completely new — a portable dna lab.
The size of a laptop but thicker, bento lab contains the four pieces of gear necessary for resume dna analysis: a centrifuge, pcr thermocycler (a device that amplifies of segments of dna gel electrophoresis (which separates molecules and a power supply. The kit — named bento, after the japanese lunchboxes — allows the user to extract, copy, and visualize dna. Get Arguable in your inbox: Jeff Jacoby on everything from politics to pet peeves to the passions of the day. Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here.
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