A chemistry set was a big part of what first interested me in science, back in the 20th century. Today’s scientist of tomorrow has the opportunity to play and learn with a bioengineering set! Yes, you can safely experiment with genetically altering bacteria to create your own pigments and more. It’s called Amino One from AminoLabs — a “laptop size Personal Bioreactor and Transformation Station” that enables learners to experience safe hands-on bioengineering — and make personally useful products. Personally, as a painter, I can’t wait to engineer bacteria to create my own pigments.
Amino One grew out of Legault’s 2015 thesis research at The MIT Media Lab. She described the birth of her enterprise in “Synbio for the Masses: A Media Lab Grad’s ‘Deploy or Die’ Story,” in which she wrote: “Synthetic biology affects so many aspects of our lives, such as food, medicine, cosmetics, energy, and materials. Yet right now, only a select few have access to the equipment and knowledge to experiment with biotechnologies. Obviously, specific knowledge is required for in-depth research and good use, but in the same way that anyone can now experiment with software and electronics, we should be able to experiment with plug-and-play biotechnology. It’s affecting so much of our lives — we need to be able to understand it firsthand and get past the fear and anxiety, because understanding biology allows us to interact more thoughtfully and meaningfully with our environments.”
A lot of the publicity about bioengineering and the prospect of desktop bioengineering has played on fears of its dangers. The dangers shouldn’t be discounted. But, neither should they prevent safe exploration. The strain of bacteria used in Amino’s experiments is rated “Biosafety Level One” by the Center for Disease Control. Synthetic biology is already part of our lives — foods, fragrances, cosmetics, and medicines are only the beginning. If new antibiotics are to be deployed against the growing list of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, they are more likely to be created than discovered. Personalized treatments for cancer via gene sequencing are already in trials. I believe that educating today’s young scientists is critically important to both mitigating the hazards and harvesting the benefits of synthetic biology.
Banner image credit: Julie Legault