Do-it-yourself biology

Do-it-yourself biology (DIY biology, DIY bio) is a growing biotechnological social movement in which individuals, communities, and small organizations study biology and life science using the same methods as traditional research institutions. DIY biology is primarily undertaken by individuals with extensive research training from academia or corporations, who then mentor and oversee other DIY biologists with little or no formal training. This may be done as a hobby, as a not-for-profit endeavour for community learning and open-science innovation, or for profit, to start a business.


The term "biohacking" as well as the concept of do-it-yourself biology has been known as early as 1988.[1][2][3]

Biohacking entered the San Francisco programmer and maker communities as early as 2005, through simple demonstrations of basic experiments. As DIYbio experiments became the focus of SuperHappyDevHouse hackers, the hobby gained additional momentum.

In 2005 Rob Carlson wrote in an article in Wired: "The era of garage biology is upon us. Want to participate? Take a moment to buy yourself a lab on eBay."[4] He then set up a garage lab the same year, working on a project he had previously worked at the Molecular Sciences Institute in Berkeley, California.[5]

In 2008, the DIYbio organization was founded by Jason Bobe and Mackenzie Cowell and its first meeting held.[6]

In 2010, Genspace opened the first community biology lab,[7] Ten months later it was followed by BioCurious,[8] and Victoria Makerspace. Many other labs and organizations followed, including but not limited to Counter Culture Labs in Oakland, CA, Baltimore Underground Science Space in Baltimore, MD, TheLab in Los Angeles, CA and Denver Biolabs in Denver, CO.

In 2016, the first conference to focus specifically on biohacking was announced to take place in September in Oakland, CA.[9]


The DIYbio movement seeks to revise the notion that one must be an academic with an advanced degree to make any significant contribution to the biology community. It allows large numbers of small organizations and individuals to participate in research and development, with spreading knowledge a higher priority than turning profits.[10]

The motivations for DIY biology include (but aren't limited to) lowered costs, entertainment, medicine, biohacking, life extension, and education. Recent work combining open-source hardware of microcontrollers like the Arduino and RepRap 3-D printers, very low-cost scientific instruments have been developed.[11]

Community laboratory space

Many organizations maintain a laboratory akin to a wet-lab makerspace, providing equipment and supplies for members. Many organizations also run classes and provide training. For a fee (usually between $50 and $100), members can join some spaces and do experiments on their own.[12][13][14]

Open source equipment

The DIY biology movement attempts to make available the tools and resources necessary for anyone, including non-professionals, to conduct biological engineering. One of the first pieces of open source laboratory equipment developed was the Dremelfuge by Irish biohacker Cathal Garvey, which uses a 3D printed tube holder attached to a Dremel rotary tool to spin tubes at high speeds, replacing often expensive centrifuges.[15] Many other devices like PCR machines have been recreated extensively.[16][17][18] In recent times, more complex devices have been created such as the OpenDrop digital microfluidics platform[19] and the DIY NanoDrop[20] both developed by GaudiLabs. Opentrons makes open-source, affordable lab robots, and got its start as a DIY biology collaboration at Genspace.[21] Incuvers makes telemetric chambers for cellular research that are affordable and allow for complete customizability of their environments.


Most advocacy in biohacking is about the safety, accessibility and future legality of experimentation. Todd Kuiken of the Woodrow Wilson Center proposes that through safety and self-governance, DIY biologists won't be in need of regulation.[22] However, Josiah Zayner has proposed that safety is inherent in biohacking and that accessibility should be the foremost concern as there is large underrepresentation of social and ethnic minorities in biohacking.[23]

Research topics

Many biohacking projects revolve around the modification of life and molecular and genetic engineering.[24]


Bioinformatics is another popular target for do-it-yourself biology research. As in other fields, many programming languages can be used in DIY biology, but most of the languages that are used are those with large bioinformatics libraries.

Examples include BioPerl or BioPython, which use the languages Perl and Python, respectively.

Genetic engineering

Genetic Engineers are a subculture of biohackers as one of the most accessible forms of biohacking is through engineering microorganisms or plants. Experiments can range from using plasmids to fluorescent bacteria, controlling gene expression using light in bacteria,[25] even using CRISPR to engineer the genome of bacteria or yeast.[26]


Restricted access to medical care and medicine has pushed biohackers to start experimenting in medically related fields. The Open Insulin project aims to make the recombinant protein insulin more accessible by creating an open source protocol for expression and purification.[27] Other experiments that have involved medical treatments include a whole body microbiome transplant[28] and the creation of open source artificial pancreases[29] for diabetics.


Grinders are a subculture of biohackers that focus on implanting technology[30] or introducing chemicals[31] into the body to enhance or change their bodies' functionality.

Some biohackers can now sense which direction they face using a magnetic implant that vibrates against the skin.[32]


In 2000, controversial and self-described "transgenic artist" Eduardo Kac appropriated standard laboratory work by biotechnology and genetics researchers in order to both utilize and critique such scientific techniques. In the only putative work of transgenic art by Kac, the artist claimed to have collaborated with a French laboratory (belonging to the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique) to procure a green-fluorescent rabbit: a rabbit implanted with a green fluorescent protein gene from a type of jellyfish [Aequorea victoria] in order for the rabbit to fluoresce green under ultraviolet light. The claimed work came to be known as the "GFP bunny", and which Kac called Alba. This claim by Kac has been disputed by the scientists at the lab who noted that they had performed the exact same experiment (i.e., the insertion of the jellyfish GFP protein-coding gene) on numerous other animals (cats, dogs, etc.) previously and did not create Alba (known to the researchers only as "Rabbit Number 5256") under the direction of Kac. The laboratory consequently kept possession of the transgenic rabbit which it had created and funded and the "transgenic art" was never exhibited at the Digital Avignon festival [2000] as intended. Kac -- claiming that his rabbit was the first GFP bunny created in the name of Art -- used this dispute to popularize the issue as one of disguised censorship by launching a "Free Alba" campaign. A doctored photo of the artist holding a day-glow-green tinted rabbit appears on his website. [33] The members of the Critical Art Ensemble have written books and staged multimedia performance interventions around this issue, including The Flesh Machine (focusing on in vitro fertilisation, surveillance of the body, and liberal eugenics) and Cult of the New Eve (In order to analyze how, in their words, "Science is the institution of authority regarding the production of knowledge, and tends to replace this particular social function of conventional Christianity in the west").[34]

Heather Dewey-Hagborg is an information artist and biohacker who uses genomic DNA left behind by people as a starting point for creating lifelike, computer-generated, 3-D portraits.[35][36]

Criticism and concerns

Biohacking experiences many of the same criticisms as synthetic biology and genetic engineering already receive, plus other concerns relating to the distributed and non-institutional nature of the work, involving potential hazards with lack of oversight by professionals or governments. Concerns about biohackers creating pathogens in unmonitored garage laboratories led the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to begin sending its representatives to DIYbio conferences in 2009.[5] The arrest and prosecution of some members for their work with harmless microbes, such as artivist Steve Kurtz, has been denounced as political repression by critics who argue the U.S. government has used post-9/11 anti-terrorism powers to intimidate artists and others who use their art to criticize society.[37]

Existing regulations are not specific to this field, so that the possibility of pathological organisms being created and released unintentionally or intentionally by biohackers has become a matter of concern, for example, in the spirit of the re-creation of the 1917 flu virus by Armed Forces Institute of Pathology researchers in 2005.[38] In the US the FBI Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate has worked with the American Association for the Advancement of Science's National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity to convene a series of meetings to discuss biosecurity, which have included discussions of amateur biologists and ways to manage the risks to society it poses.[39][40]:8.16 At the National Institutes of Health, National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity[41] leads efforts to educate the public on "dual use research of concern", for example with websites like "Science Safety Security".[42] In 2011, DIYbio organized conferences to attempt to create codes of ethics for biohackers.[43]

Pat Mooney, executive director of ETC Group, is a critic of biohacking who argues that—using a laptop computer, published gene sequence information, and mail-order synthetic DNA—just about anyone has the potential to construct genes or entire genomes from scratch (including those of the lethal pathogens) in the near-future. A 2007 ETC Group report warns that the danger of this development is not just bio-terror, but "bio-error".[44]

While no DIYbio project to date has involved harmful agents, the fear remains in the minds of both regulators and laypersons. However, it is often pointed out that DIYbio is at too early a stage to consider such advanced projects feasible, as few successful transformative genetics projects have been undertaken yet. It is also worth noting that, while an individual could conceivably do harm with sufficient skill and intent, there exist biology labs throughout the world with greater access to the technology, skill and funding to accomplish a bioweapons project.

While detractors argue that do-it-yourself biologists need some sort of supervision, enthusiasts argue that uniform supervision is impossible and the best way to prevent accidents or malevolence is to encourage a culture of transparency, where, in essence, do-it-yourself biologists would be peer reviewed by other biohackers.[45] Enthusiasts argue that fear of potential hazards should be met with increased research and education rather than closing the door on the profound positive impacts that distributed biological technology will have on human health, the environment, and the standard of living around the world.[46] Due to the lack of precedent regarding such a business model, the DIYbio founders see this as an opportunity to be innovators in regulatory and safety policy.[6]

Groups and organizations


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External links

Baltimore Underground Science Space

The Baltimore Underground Science Space (BUGSS) is a non-profit synthetic biology and biotechnology makerspace laboratory for science enthusiasts, hobbyists, and professionals to practice, share and learn about the biological sciences. BUGSS is closely aligned with do-it-yourself biology and the Maryland science community generally, and offers courses and lectures in addition to community lab space. It was founded by Dr. Tom Burkett in 2012. It is located in the Highlandtown neighborhood of Baltimore, Maryland.BUGSS has regularly hosted teams for the annual International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition. In 2014, the team focused on 3D bioprinting. In 2016, the team worked on isolating the genes in the bacterium Ideonella sakaiensis that allow it to consume the plastic PET, and introducing them into Escherichia coli.


The terms biohacking and wetware hacking emphasize the connection to hacker culture and the hacker ethic. The term hacker is used in the original sense of finding new and clever ways to do things and may refer to:

Do-it-yourself biology, biotechnological social movement in which individuals and small organizations study biology using the same methods as traditional research institutions

Grinder (biohacking), people that alter their own bodies by implanting do-it-yourself cybernetic devices

Self-experimentation in medicine

Nutrigenomics, using nutrition to hack/take control of the human biology

Quantified self, measuring various biomarkers and behaviors to try to optimize health

Biological warfare

Biological warfare (BW)—also known as germ warfare—is the use of biological toxins or infectious agents such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi with the intent to kill or incapacitate humans, animals or plants as an act of war. Biological weapons (often termed "bio-weapons", "biological threat agents", or "bio-agents") are living organisms or replicating entities (viruses, which are not universally considered "alive") that reproduce or replicate within their host victims. Entomological (insect) warfare is also considered a type of biological weapon. This type of warfare is distinct from nuclear warfare and chemical warfare, which together with biological warfare make up NBC, the military initialism for nuclear, biological, and chemical warfare using weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). None of these are considered conventional weapons, which are deployed primarily for their explosive, kinetic, or incendiary potential.

Biological weapons may be employed in various ways to gain a strategic or tactical advantage over the enemy, either by threats or by actual deployments. Like some chemical weapons, biological weapons may also be useful as area denial weapons. These agents may be lethal or non-lethal, and may be targeted against a single individual, a group of people, or even an entire population. They may be developed, acquired, stockpiled or deployed by nation states or by non-national groups. In the latter case, or if a nation-state uses it clandestinely, it may also be considered bioterrorism.Biological warfare and chemical warfare overlap to an extent, as the use of toxins produced by some living organisms is considered under the provisions of both the Biological Weapons Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention. Toxins and psychochemical weapons are often referred to as midspectrum agents. Unlike bioweapons, these midspectrum agents do not reproduce in their host and are typically characterized by shorter incubation periods.The use of biological weapons is prohibited under customary international humanitarian law, as well as a variety of international treaties. The use of biological agents in armed conflict is a war crime.

DIYbio (organization)

DIYbio is an informal umbrella organization for individuals and local groups active in do-it-yourself biology, encompassing both a website and an email list. It serves as a network of individuals from around the globe that aims to help make biology a worthwhile pursuit for citizen scientists, biohackers, amateur biologists, and do-it-yourself biological engineers who value openness and safety. It was founded by Jason Bobe and Mackenzie Cowell in 2008.The website provides resources for those in the do-it-yourself biology community. It maintains a directory of local groups encompassing both meetup groups and organizations maintaining community laboratory space, and a weekly blog listing events hosted by these organizations. The website also hosts safety information including ethics codes developed by the community and an "ask a biosafety professional" feature, as well as DIY instructions for making several types of laboratory equipment.

Ellen Jorgensen

Ellen Jorgensen is a New York-based molecular biologist leading the do-it-yourself biology movement. She works to increase scientific literacy in the general population, particularly in the fields of molecular and synthetic biology. She is a co-founder of both Biotech Without Borders and Genspace. In 2017, Ellen Jorgensen was named one of the Most Creative Leaders in Business by Fast Company.

Grinder (biohacking)

Grinders are people who apply the hacker ethic to improve their own bodies with do-it-yourself cybernetic devices or introducing chemicals into the body to enhance or change their bodies' functionality. Many grinders identify with the biopunk movement, open-source transhumanism, and techno-progressivism. The Grinder movement is strongly associated with the body modification movement and practices actual implantation of cybernetic devices in organic bodies as a method of working towards transhumanism, such as designing and installing do-it-yourself body-enhancements such as magnetic implants. Biohacking emerged in a growing trend of non-institutional science and technology development.According to, "Grinders are passionate individuals who believe the tools and knowledge of science belong to everyone. Grinders practice functional extreme body modification in an effort to improve the human condition. [Grinders] hack [them]selves with electronic hardware to extend and improve human capacities. Grinders believe in action, [thei]r bodies the experiment.""Biohacking" can also refer to managing one's own biology using a combination of medical, nutritional and electronic techniques. This may include the use of nootropics, non-toxic substances, and/or cybernetic devices for recording biometric data (as in the Quantified Self movement).


Hackteria is a web platform and collection of open source biological art projects instigated in February 2009 by Andy Gracie, Marc Dusseiller and Yashas Shetty, after collaboration during the Interactivos?09 Garage Science at Medialab Prado in Madrid. According to their website the aim of the project is to develop a rich wiki-based web resource for people interested in or developing projects that involve bioart, open source software/open source hardware, DIY biology, art/science collaborations and electronic experimentation.Hackteria designs were featured in the book Open-Source Lab by Joshua M. Pearce. SciDev reports that Hackteria is trying to change the way development is done with DIY. Wired highlighted a project inspired by Hackteria's earlier prototypes on mobile labs to create the Darwin Toolbox: the portable DIY biotechnology lab-in-a-box, now developed further as the Bento Lab. In India, Hackteria is known for the science of art making.

Hazards of synthetic biology

The hazards of synthetic biology include biosafety hazards to workers and the public, biosecurity hazards stemming from deliberate engineering of organisms to cause harm, and hazards to the environment. The biosafety hazards are similar to those for existing fields of biotechnology, mainly exposure to pathogens and toxic chemicals, although novel synthetic organisms may have novel risks. For biosecurity, there is concern that synthetic or redesigned organisms could theoretically be used for bioterrorism. Potential biosecurity risks include recreating known pathogens from scratch, engineering existing pathogens to be more dangerous, and engineering microbes to produce harmful biochemicals. Lastly, environmental hazards include adverse effects on biodiversity and ecosystem services, including potential changes to land use resulting from agricultural use of synthetic organisms.

In general, existing hazard controls, risk assessment methodologies, and regulations developed for traditional genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are considered to be sufficient for synthetic organisms. "Extrinsic" biocontainment methods in a laboratory context include physical containment through biosafety cabinets and gloveboxes, as well as personal protective equipment. In an agricultural context they include isolation distances and pollen barriers, similar to methods for biocontainment of GMOs. Synthetic organisms might potentially offer increased hazard control because they can be engineered with "intrinsic" biocontainment methods that limit their growth in an uncontained environment, or prevent horizontal gene transfer to natural organisms. Examples of intrinsic biocontainment include auxotrophy, biological kill switches, inability of the organism to replicate or to pass synthetic genes to offspring, and the use of xenobiological organisms using alternative biochemistry, for example using artificial xeno nucleic acids (XNA) instead of DNA.

Existing risk analysis systems for GMOs are generally considered sufficient for synthetic organisms, although there may be difficulties for an organism built "bottom-up" from individual genetic sequences. Synthetic biology generally falls under existing regulations for GMOs and biotechnology in general, and any regulations that exist for downstream commercial products, although there are generally no regulations in any jurisdiction that are specific to synthetic biology.

Maker culture

The maker culture is a contemporary culture or subculture representing a technology-based extension of DIY culture that intersects with hacker culture (which is less concerned with physical objects as it focuses on software) and revels in the creation of new devices as well as tinkering with existing ones. The maker culture in general supports open-source hardware. Typical interests enjoyed by the maker culture include engineering-oriented pursuits such as electronics, robotics, 3-D printing, and the use of Computer Numeric Control tools, as well as more traditional activities such as metalworking, woodworking, and, mainly, its predecessor, the traditional arts and crafts. The subculture stresses a cut-and-paste approach to standardized hobbyist technologies, and encourages cookbook re-use of designs published on websites and maker-oriented publications. There is a strong focus on using and learning practical skills and applying them to reference designs. There is also growing work on equity and the maker culture.

Outline of transhumanism

The following outline provides an overview of and a topical guide to transhumanism, an international intellectual and cultural movement that affirms the possibility and desirability of fundamentally transforming the human condition by developing and making widely available technologies to eliminate aging and to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical and psychological capacities. Transhumanist thinkers study the potential benefits and dangers of emerging and hypothetical technologies that could overcome fundamental human limitations as well as study the ethical matters involved in developing and using such technologies. They predict that human beings may eventually be able to transform themselves into beings with such greatly expanded abilities as to merit the label posthuman.

Synthetic biology

Synthetic biology is an interdisciplinary branch of biology and engineering.

The subject combines disciplines from within these domains, such as biotechnology, genetic engineering, molecular biology, molecular engineering, systems biology, membrane science, biophysics, chemical and biological engineering, electrical and computer engineering, control engineering and evolutionary biology. Synthetic biology applies these disciplines to build artificial biological systems for research, engineering and medical applications.


Technogaianism (a portmanteau word combining "techno-" for technology and "gaian" for Gaia philosophy) is a bright green environmentalist stance of active support for the research, development and use of emerging and future technologies to help restore Earth's environment. Technogaians argue that developing safe, clean, alternative technology should be an important goal of environmentalists.


Transhumanism (abbreviated as H+ or h+) is an international philosophical movement that advocates for the transformation of the human condition by developing and making widely available sophisticated technologies to greatly enhance human intellect and physiology.Transhumanist thinkers study the potential benefits and dangers of emerging technologies that could overcome fundamental human limitations as well as the ethical limitations of using such technologies. The most common transhumanist thesis is that human beings may eventually be able to transform themselves into different beings with abilities so greatly expanded from the current condition as to merit the label of posthuman beings.The contemporary meaning of the term "transhumanism" was foreshadowed by one of the first professors of futurology, FM-2030, who taught "new concepts of the human" at The New School in the 1960s, when he began to identify people who adopt technologies, lifestyles and worldviews "transitional" to posthumanity as "transhuman". The assertion would lay the intellectual groundwork for the British philosopher Max More to begin articulating the principles of transhumanism as a futurist philosophy in 1990, and organizing in California an intelligentsia that has since grown into the worldwide transhumanist movement.Influenced by seminal works of science fiction, the transhumanist vision of a transformed future humanity has attracted many supporters and detractors from a wide range of perspectives, including philosophy and religion.

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