“The moment I enter a lab, I kill everything,” says Daniel Grushkin, one of the world’s most prominent and successful DIY biohackers.
Grushkin cofounded the famed community lab Genspace in Brooklyn in 2010, and he runs the international Biodesign Challenge, which encourages art students to try their hands at biohacking and showcases winning projects at the Museum of Modern Art. His mission is to make everyday people feel comfortable messing around with biology.
Yet at the recent Biofabricate conference held at Parsons School of Design in New York City, Grushkin and others said that mission has been ill-served by media reports suggesting that anyone can build a biohacking lab in a bedroom closet. Grushkin says the message—that citizen scientists can easily carry out experiments in growing microbes and genetically engineering cells—doesn’t match reality. “Biology is hard,” he says, “and those promises and headlines don’t make things work in the lab.”
No one at Biofabricate was suggesting that would-be biohackers should give up, however; the conference organizers want more people to take life and death into their own hands. And three startups were present to argue that DIYers just need a little technological assist. The companies, Amino Labs, Biorealize, and Spiderwort, all make DIY bio instruments that automate some of the tricky and tedious parts of biology experiments.