DIY bio community lab opens in NYC

The Genspace lab members are part of a growing movement of do-it-yourself amateur biologists, commonly called DIY Bio.

The world’s first government-compliant community biotech laboratory has opened its doors in New York City, in mid-December 2010. The lab is called Genspace, and unlike a research lab, it’s available for use by the public. It’s the first facility in the U.S. specifically created for amateur biologists that meets safety requirements set by the Center for Disease Control.

Genspace and its members are part of a growing movement of do-it-yourself amateur biologists, commonly called DIY Bio.

Genspace was started by a group of artists, engineers, writers, and biologists. Their mission is to educate people about science, and create a safe space for amateur biologists and future biotech entrepreneurs to work on their ideas.

Bruce Rittman uses bacteria to make energy from waste

The Genspace team’s plans for the community lab began in 2009, and they spent the summer of 2010 putting the physical space together. They used found materials to build it out, and they got most of their equipment donated from a lab that was shutting down. One of the biggest challenges of opening up a community lab is getting the go-ahead from the government. According to Wired.com, the NYPD and the FBI were concerned that the space might potentially be used as a meth lab or a bioterrorism operation. A series of meetings convinced the authorities that the organization’s intentions were good, and thus Genspace became the first ever community lab that is Biosafety Level One compliant.

The opening happened to take place during the same week as the release of a White House-commissioned report on if and how the government should oversee synthetic biology, a type of biotechnology that involves the building or redesign of life forms. The advisory panel recommended that the White House “remain actively engaged” with the do-it-yourselfers like those at Genspace, but did not call for regulation.

Drew Endy uses tools of synthetic biology to construct new genetic material

It costs $100 per month for a membership to Genspace, and starting in January, they’re offering a “Biotech Crash Course” to introduce New Yorkers to the wonders of genetic engineering.

Lindsay Patterson