Tag: iGEM competition

Skunkworks Bioengineering — Prerequisites to Success?

Posted by – November 13, 2008

“Despite all the support and money evident in the projects, there is absolutely no reason this work could not be done in a garage. And all of the parts for these projects are now available from the Registry.” Rob Carlson, iGEM 2008: Surprise — The Future is Here Already, Nov 2008.

The question which should be posed is:

  • What does it really take to actually do this in a garage?

Of course I’m interested in the answer.  I actually want to do this in my garage.

(Let’s ignore the fact for a moment, that many of the iGEM competition projects don’t generate experimental results due to lack of time in the schedule, thus actual project results don’t mirror the project prospectus.)

Here is my short list of what is required:

  • Education (all at university level)
  • Experience
    • 1 year of industry or grad-level engineering lab research & design
    • 1 year of wet lab in synthesis
    • 2 more years of wet lab in synthesis if it’s desired to have a high probability of success on the project (see my SB4.0 notes for where this came from)
  • Equipment
    • Most lab equipment is generally unnecessary, since significant work can be outsourced.
    • Thermocycler
    • Incubator
    • Centrifuge
    • Glassware
    • Example setup: See Making a Biological Counter, Katherine Aull, 2008 (Home bio-lab created for under $500.)
    • Laptop or desktop computer
    • Internet connection
  • Capital
    • About $10k to $20k cash (?) to throw at a problem for outsourced labor, materials, and equipment (this cost decreases on a yearly basis).
  • Time (Work effort)
    • Depends on experience, on the scope of the problem, on project feasibility — of course.
    • 4 to 7 man-months to either obtain a working prototype or scrap the project.

Although some student members of iGEM teams are random majors such as economics or music, somehow I’m not sure they qualify towards the “anyone can do this” mantra.  Of the iGEM competition teams who placed well for their work, all of the members were 3rd year or 4th year undergrads or higher.  The issue isn’t the equipment or ability to outsource — it’s the human capital, the mind-matter, that counts: education and experience.  (Which, in the “I want to DIY my Bio!” crowd, is a rare find.)

With all that covered, it seems anyone can have their very own glowing bacteria.

“Biology is hard, and expensive, and most people trained enough to make a go of it have a lab already — one that pays them to work.”   — Katherine Aull (see above ref.)

Modifying Yeast for Drug Production in Beer – BioBeer

Posted by – November 13, 2008

How synthetic biology gets done in iGEM competition:

Jam08 Live: Rice – BioBeer from mac cowell on Vimeo. [1]

Before getting too excited though, keep in mind:

  • The experiment hasn’t been verified to work. The yeast “seems to be consuming some intermediate products” however the drug production hasn’t been verified.
  • The benefits of resveritrol may be dramatically overstated. It may take very large quantities of resveritrol to have any health benefits [2].
  • The public-at-large has responded very enthusiastically to this idea (same with the modified yeast for Bio Yogurt) — which may signal the tempering of the typical U.S. “No GMO!” paranoia. Random people have proclaimed: “I want to drink this beer!”, casting aside concerns of consuming genetic engineered products.
  • The most remarkable health benefits in both wine and beer may be due to the alcohol (reducing psychological stress); it seems no one (?) has a good study on this because no one studies non-alcoholic wine or non-alcoholic beer.
[1] Jam08 Live: Rice – BioBeer from mac cowell on Vimeo. Filmed by http://www.vimeo.com/macowel
[2] Beer: The Best Beverage in the World. Charlie Bamforth, Ph.D., D.Sc. of University of California, Davis, at PARC Forum. March 22, 2007. Watch the Video as wmv  Charlie Bamforth is Fellow of the Institute of Brewing & Distilling and Fellow of the Institute of Biology, Editor in Chief of the Journal of the American Society of Brewing Chemists and has published innumerable papers, articles and books on beer and brewing.