(Temporary Autonomous) Lab Building

Brian Degger

This is a presentation given on 20 January, 2016, at the Open Tools and Infrastructure for Biology 2016 held at Newcastle University.

Trained in molecular biology, then transitioned to art and science instead of taking a post doc. Has seen the rise of bio-art, but not much biology resulting from that. Tools (e.g. Arduino) and a growing community (maker fairs, hack days, hackteria in 2009) led to increasing collaboration. He is going to cover TALs (Temporary Autonomous Labs). TALs are meant to be essentially zero budget. Work would range from basic DNA extraction through to putting a webcam into a digital microscope. You can perform some nice observations on things like complex lifecycles, quorum sensing etc.

DIY BIO Coding Europe 2011 – resulted in a Draft code of ethics from the European Congress. In Europe, the technology is regulated more than the output, whereas in America the questions arise later, e.g. when you’re ready to go to market.

TALs are labs set up in unconventional spaces for research or to run workshops. They last only a short time, for instance 1 day to 3 weeks. Some lab spaces might be a bar or cultural venue. In many cases, the chance of getting some of these things actually working were slim, but it was more about the journey. TALs are also meant to be cheap (use of micro controllers and sensors) and performed in a way that there is a high level of overlap with related experiments. TALs also have bespoke materials and protocols which respond to local conditions. This may mean that there are many local substitutions and some hacking involved. For instance, WRT basic microbiological media, they used domestic yeast extract instead of lab grade.

TALs still need to have an appropriate safety awareness and lab rules which are contingent upon the experiment. BS0 (biosafety zero) experiments are those that pose no or limited risk to the experimenter. Also, one-way culturing, e.g. microbial kisses and octopus dissection (looking/experimenting/eating). With a TAL, you can “roll your own lab”, and see lab building as a process. This highlights the importance of labelling and questioning. What is the lab for? What are the parts? Workshops run with TALs include daphnia hacking, octopus dissection, kinchi making, sima making, spice detectives, glowing squid, glowing wood, glowing…everything! Degger then described Gjino Sutic’s work on building a “beating heart” by stitching cellulose together. They do outreach through maker fairs and libraries rather than through their own lab.

Workshop-o-logy… There has been some “cross-pollination” with Hackterias. There are also workshops run in labs themselves. In 2014 they had a “make your own” hackteria, e.g. what kind of lab shaking equipment can you make from commonly-found motors? He spent some time doing transitlab.org in 2011. There are some groups which take slack time in other organizations, e.g. Field Notes. Other interesting projects: OpenPump.org, OpenTrons.

What are the TALs place WRT more academic/permanent labs? Are low cost labs better for teaching bioscience? Interesting questions…

Please note that this post is merely my notes on the presentation. I may have made mistakes: these notes are not guaranteed to be correct. Unless explicitly stated, they represent neither my opinions nor the opinions of my employers. Any errors you can assume to be mine and not the speaker’s. I’m happy to correct any errors you may spot – just let me know!


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