What comes to mind when you think of a makerspace? Maybe it’s 3D printers. Maybe it’s a workshop. Maybe it’s a bunch of people hacking together electronics. Or maybe it’s a mystery. But have you ever thought a makerspace could be a place to experiment with biology?
Do-it-yourself Biology, or DIYbio for short, is a different type of making where amateurs and scientists team up to learn more about the living world. Using the same tools and techniques traditionally reserved for university laboratories, DIYbio labs allow anyone to experiment and tinker with the science of life.
At this point you’re probably asking yourself, “what exactly does this mean and what can I do?” DIYbio is very broad and has a little something for everyone!
Surprised to see art listed here? Well there are many types of living art you can make in a DIYbio lab. Bacteria and fungi come in all sorts of different colors and when used like paint can make many beautiful works of living art– many even glow! You can grow fungi into sculptures, and even make a picture out of yeast!
Biology plays a major role in some of our favorite food and drinks. Want to brew beer with your own yeast? DIYbio can help you capture and culture a unique strain. If you’re not a drinker, how about bread and cheese? Fungi and bacteria help give your cheese that tangy flavor and your sourdough its tart taste. Understanding the biology of your food will let you experiment with new ways of making your favorite treats.
Want to know what’s in your genes? We’ve got you covered! DIYbio labs can take a look into your DNA to see why broccoli tastes bitter to some and why it might take you longer to wake up in the morning than your friend.
DIYbio labs also let us explore the macroscopic world. Want to know what’s in your soil? How about if the water in a nearby stream is polluted. There’s a lot that citizens can do in their environment given the right tools. And who knows, maybe you’ll discover something new right in your backyard.
Scientist in professional labs are not the only ones who can engineer organisms to do useful things. With the tools and equipment offered in most DIYbio labs, anyone can give new abilities to common bacteria. From engineering a bacterium to glow by inserting jellyfish DNA to microbes that can detect toxins in the the environment, DIY biologist are mostly only limited by their imagination.
DIYbio at Decatur Makers
If this sounds exciting, then you’re in luck! Decatur Makers is proud to boast that we have our very own DIYbio lab located right inside the makerspace. Thanks to the generous contributions of several members, the Decatur Makers Community Lab is equipped to handle most types of biological experiments.
Here’s just some of the we have to offer:
- Gel Box
The lab is open to all members with appropriate training to conduct their own research or simply better explore the world around them.
But I don’t know anything about biology…
No worries! Just like the rest of Decatur Makers, our group is made up of people with all different sorts of backgrounds. Some are scientists, but most haven’t taken a science class since high school and are just interested in learning more about the living world around them. Our mission is:
“To build a diverse community of citizen scientists by educating and empowering individuals to believe that everyone, regardless of background or socioeconomic status, can make an important impact on the the scientific world.”
So regardless of your age or educational background, everyone is encouraged to get involved. And whether you’re mildly interested or have a big question to answer, the Decatur Makers Community Lab has something for you.
How to Get Involved
If you want to get involved or just see what we’re all about, please join us for some of our upcoming events:
Join us every third Monday of the month for some science and fun! Bio Mondays is an opportunity for anyone interested in DIY Bio to come and see what it’s all about. Each month we’ll feature a hands-on activity, a speaker, or a discussion related to DIY Bio. If you’re interested in working in the lab, this is also a great time to get safety training or training on a new piece of equipment.
Bio Mondays are free and open to Decatur Makers members and non-members alike. Note, that if you do wish participate in the hands-on activities there may be a small fee.
We’ll update you on the current month’s activity as we get closer to the date of the event. You can RSVP to our first Bio Mondays here.
Teen DIYbio Summer Workshop
Do you have a teen that’s curious about the world around them? Have they ever wondered how scientists can manipulate biology to solve problems or cure disease? Then have them join us for our first ever Teen DIY Bio Summer Workshop! Through hands-on, inquiry-based lab activities they will learn the basics of molecular/microbiology while using the same tools and techniques professional scientists use everyday. By the end of the workshop, they will have the knowledge and skills to conduct their own citizen science research. Let them come see just how fun biology can be!
What they’ll learn:
- How to extract and analyze their own DNA using PCR and Gel Electrophoresis
- How to culture, and genetically modify bacteria
- How prepare specimens for viewing under a microscope
- Proper use of laboratory equipment.
- Lab Safety
Make a Myclium Planter
Join us for our first Building with Mycelium class! We’ll create one of a kind succulent planters out of mycelium (the root-like parts of mushrooms) while learning a little about what makes fungi so cool. These planters use mycelium to bind together agricultural waste resulting in a unique and truly environmentally friendly product. You can sign up here!
Finally, a Note on Safety
If any of this has you concerned about the next pandemic or a zombie outbreak, let us put your fears to rest! DIYbio is as dangerous as using any other tool. Like a saw, if used incorrectly, it can cause serious damage. But having proper training and following proper procedures, both are perfectly safe. The Decatur Makers Community Lab is a Biosafety Level 1 facility. This means that we only work with organisms and materials that are not known to infect healthy humans. We require all members working in the lab to go through training on general lab safety and receive additional training on all equipment which may pose a hazardous situation if misused. Every experiment or activity performed in the lab must first be approved to ensure it falls within our policies and all safety concerns have been addressed. As citizen scientists, the onus is on us to ensure we perform work that is ethical, safe, and beneficial; so we aim to be as transparent as possible in everything we do. If you want more specifics, our policies document can be found here.