The next big scientific breakthrough may come from a garage, not a lab, with do-it-yourself biologists popping up everywhere. Genetic tinkerer Daniel Grushkin has a message for the curious: go ahead, try this at home.
In the scientific journals, we’ve been labeled biotech hobbyists, citizen scientists, even biohackers.
Last December, seven of us opened the first community lab, called Genspace. Though it’s a fully functional lab, it has a decidedly hacked-together aesthetic. We built it in a Brooklyn, N.Y., warehouse that was converted into a workspace for architects and designers. At the center of the floor sits a glass cube made of found objects. The walls are created from windows and sliding glass doors saved from demo sites. The lab benches are stainless steel tables salvaged from industrial kitchens. Most of the equipment was donated by a biotech company that downsized during the economic crisis.
We incorporated Genspace as a nonprofit to serve as a shared lab, a nursery for biotech tinkerers. Our members include an entrepreneur with great ideas but a miniscule budget, an artist employing single-celled organisms for an experimental design palette, a molecular biologist with a penchant for mentorship, and folks like me, who want to learn by creating novel organisms.