The BioStrike Project

The BioStrike Project, or how to hack your way out of antibiotic resistance.

Pieter van Boheemen

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

Technology is not neutral. It is always tailored towards a certain world view or opinion. The choices are made between competition and collaboration, and centralized versus grass roots. This research group works with a variety of people (including artists) performing “creative research”, mixing art, science and technology.

In their projects they bring a number of different attitudes, one of which is MAKER. Making is crucial to understand and act in our world. The best producers of technology are the users themselves. The Makers are brought together with artists. An example of this is the “Fat Project”, examining the role of fat in society. They strongly believe in “engaged citizens”, and involving everyone in what they do.

Pieter is trained in biology / biotechnology. He has set up the Open Wetlab, where they can try and build their own tools and their own experiments in a new layout and setup (e.g. they’ve made their own bioprinter). A couple of years ago they started up a Meetup community, where you can come into the Open Wetlab to do your own experiments. Every Tuesday people get together to work on community projects. “Do it Together Bio” includes making your own superfoods, bioprinting and all sorts of other things. One workshop was making competent cells (CLab) trying to show the community what can be done in the lab.

They also worked on the Bio Solar Ensemble, which combined bio art and performance art. At a festival, you could inject zebrafish embryos with algae to start a discussion in the community.

Lately he’s been working on the BioHack academy, which organizes all of the stuff they’ve been doing in the Open Wetlab into a single course. They also teach people about what it means to be a hacker – it’s an attitude, a subculture. It means:

  • Create & share,
  • freedom of inquiry,
  • hostility to secrecy,
  • sharing as ideology and strategy,
  • the right to fork,
  • emphasis on rationality,
  • distaste of authority, and
  • playful cleverness.

Everything in the BioHack academy is freely available – all course material, lab work etc. There are a number of BioHack Academy partner labs as well. There have been two years now of the BioHack Academy. BHA3 (the current one) has an even bigger set of partner labs.

BioStrike has been going on in the “biohack scene” for a while, and revolves around the issue of antibiotic resistance. NESTA is handing out a prize of £10 million to develop new diagnostic tools – the Antibiotic Resistance Challenge. They have a current project called the Art of Impact.

About 65% of all antibiotics that we have are derived from Actinomyces. The simpler antibiotics have largely been found (vancomycin and daptomycin). Most microbes cannot be screened and therefore cannot be tested – in theory there is a lot to be discovered. They have built their own version of the iChip called the Double Sandwich Diffusion System – these tools are used in metagenomics. The PetShop Project allows people in the community to buy microbes, and buy tools related to it. They’ve got a “DIY” approach to try to find antibiotics.

The industry claims that there is a 23 year delay between antibiotic creation and profit. They suggest new types of patents, product development partnerships, reimbursement to the industry after AB development, tax discount for AB development, and loosening of regulations… Where is the “open” in the development of AB by the industry? He says that if you search, you can find suitable companies…

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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