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Genspace: New York City's Community Biolab (Video)

Roblimo posted about a year and a half ago | from the Igor-is-on-his-break-can-I-help-you? dept.

Biotech 29

Imagine that you are at 33 Flatbush Ave. in the Brooklyn borough of what David Letterman calls "the world's greatest city." You go to the 7th floor. Congratulations. You have found New York City's community biolab, Genspace. It's a well-equipped facility without a single mad scientist in sight. Indeed, everyone here seems as happy as the people you see in a makerspace -- which should not be surprising, since Genspace is essentially a makerspace for biologists. It is confined to non-hazardous experiments, but there is plenty going on, including ongoing projects and courses with titles like DIY Neuroscience: Controlling Behavior from the Inside. You can keep up with Genspace by following their blog. And of course, if you're in the neighborhood you should stop in. It's a welcoming environment, dedicated to the idea that science is for everyone, not just a chosen few.

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29 comments

What could possibly go wrong (0)

crazyjj (2598719) | about a year and a half ago | (#42045825)

It is confined to non-hazardous experiments

And they are, of course, policing that carefully, right? I mean, most universities wouldn't just let any yahoo walk in off the street and have full access to their biolabs. So naturally, these guys aren't either, right? They wouldn't do that smack in the middle of one of the most densely populated cities on the planet--I mean that goes without saying. Of course, they've allotted money and personnel for security, checking for credentials, etc. (it's probably foolish of me to even ask, OF COURSE they have). I'm sure they don't just let anyone walk in off the street with a petri dish and start using equipment. That would be fucking crazy.

Re:What could possibly go wrong (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42046069)

such a clever troll.

Re:What could possibly go wrong (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42046177)

such a clever troll.

Not really, Mr. Anonymous Coward. Your post is a poor troll poster child.

Re:What could possibly go wrong (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42046247)

I know what could go wrong! John McAfee could show up.

Re:What could possibly go wrong (2)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about a year and a half ago | (#42046403)

The important thing is that you've answered all of your questions and you're satisfied with the answer.

The alternative answer is that it is stupendously hard to do anything dangerous in a biology lab, unless you spend millions of dollars on equipment and supplies. The idea of any individual or group less powerful than a small government or large corporation doing anything dangerous with a bio lab is pointless low-budget sci-fi wankery. With no effort and no training, you could just go to Africa and bring back some Malaria-infested mosquitos, and cause far more damage. It's a complete waste of time to worry about the abuse of biology for nefarious ends.

Re:What could possibly go wrong (2)

Anon-Admin (443764) | about a year and a half ago | (#42046691)

I dont think that is correct. Just to make a point

Blood Agar Plates == 10 for $23.95 (Online Science Mall)
Laminar flow hood == $400 (E-bay)
Incubator == $100 (e-bay)
Sample of pathogen == Free from Rats you just have to catch and test enough tell you find what you are looking for.
Microscope for identifying various pathogens. == $150 (E-bay)

So the stuff to capture and culture out a pathogen is less that $1000 and there are some nasty ones out there to be had. Just to point this out as well bubonic plague is easy to find in rat populations depending on where you are and it even easier to spread with little more than an eye dropper!

NOTE: E-bay prices are what I paid for my equipment. Bigger equipment can get expensive, for example my HPLC was $1500 and my Vis/UV Spectrophotometer was $300

Re:What could possibly go wrong (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about a year and a half ago | (#42046845)

In my opinion that falls outside of the purview of needing a bio lab, and is more in the "let's just go pick up some malaria" category. The accessibility of a bio hacker-space can't really be implicated unless it is providing something that wouldn't be readily available in the environment already.

Re:What could possibly go wrong (1)

Anon-Admin (443764) | about a year and a half ago | (#42047623)

Ill concede on that point but will add that you can get everything you need from Internet sources for less than 20k

Re:What could possibly go wrong (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about a year and a half ago | (#42050925)

Assuming you already have a 20-80k education to know what to do with it in the first place, and a practised lab technique, and... when you get down to it, it's not something you'd really want to risk getting caught doing by performing it in a public space.

Re:What could possibly go wrong (1)

hypergreatthing (254983) | about a year and a half ago | (#42046859)

I think the bigger part of that story is basically, it's easy and not very costly to set up your own at home biolab if you want to, and if you have the know how. It can be used for all nefarious purposes, so why hasn't one yet? Because it's probably
a) hard to do
b) hard to do and not kill yourself
c) just plain dumb

Having a open lab willing to educate and accept students and others who have a knack for using their equipment can be both rewarding, educational and lucrative. If you leave paranoia at home, you'll see it's all perfectly reasonable.

Re:What could possibly go wrong (1)

Anon-Admin (443764) | about a year and a half ago | (#42047591)

A is not true, B well yes and no, C I disagree it is fun having your own biolab and you can do a lot with it.

Though I may be a bit optimistic, I have a biolab including a class 100 clean room and a degree to go with it so maybe the normal people are just too dumb for it but I tend to believe that everyone has the ability to excel given the right knowledge.

Re:What could possibly go wrong (1)

Hatta (162192) | about a year and a half ago | (#42047427)

I mean, most universities wouldn't just let any yahoo walk in off the street and have full access to their biolabs.

Yeah, pretty much we will. You're an undergrad and you want to help? Here's a key.

It is confined to non-hazardous experiments... (0)

Cornwallis (1188489) | about a year and a half ago | (#42045851)

...to be financed by the sale of a nearby bridge.

Re:It is confined to non-hazardous experiments... (1)

interkin3tic (1469267) | about a year and a half ago | (#42046199)

Depends on how they define non-hazardous. A reasonable definition would maybe involve "Unlikely to cause a gigantic explosion or release chlorine gas." An unreasonable definition would be "Cannot possibly hurt anyone."

They could meet the reasonable one. I work in a biology lab, one that's not free-to-all. I wouldn't describe my work as hazardous. We work with some pretty serious toxins, but you'd have to ingest them, not wear gloves, or juggle the bottles for it to be dangerous.

Cooking involves some danger, but is not hazardous. Boil some water. That could hurt. But you don't think of water as "hazardous."

Re:It is confined to non-hazardous experiments... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42046283)

If you work in a bio lab you must know there are exact standards for what hazardous is, and it isn't up to the lab to define them...

Re:It is confined to non-hazardous experiments... (1)

interkin3tic (1469267) | about a year and a half ago | (#42047435)

There are legal standards for what is hazardous and what is not, sure. Those aren't standards that everyone uses in casual conversation, and may not be a standard used here.

Science IS for just a chosen few.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42046103)

...the rest are test subjects...

science is for everyone, not just a chosen few (2)

tippe (1136385) | about a year and a half ago | (#42046207)

What the hell is that supposed to mean? Are scientists hand-picked by the king now?

Re:science is for everyone, not just a chosen few (3, Insightful)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about a year and a half ago | (#42046317)

We sure are. Our degrees are in Latin and everything.

The parameters are "do you have the patience and dedication to get a four-year degree?", "how about a two-year research project after that?", "okay, what if we replace that last one with a five-year research project instead?", "can you afford it all given your socioeconomic situation?", "can you devote your career to it?", "are you not already trapped in another career?". If the answer to all of these is "yes", then the king has hand-picked you. Otherwise you'd be SOL without a bio-hacker space like this.

Re:science is for everyone, not just a chosen few (2)

Iron (III) Chloride (922186) | about a year and a half ago | (#42047115)

I find that to be a bit of an unfair characterization.

Sure, there are definite socioeconomic barriers - it favors someone who was exposed to science at a young age, or could afford to get a decent education (or be so good that he could get into a school where he didn't have to pay tuition), or did not have family obligations that would distract from a career - these things all unfairly inhibit participation in science. But I don't think that things like patience and dedication can be characterized as "hand-picking," certainly not in any sense of it being "unfair."

The truth of the matter is, science is hard, and requires intelligence, diligence, and patience. No institution or society or culture has artificially increased its difficulty - its very nature means that in order to be able to understand what you're doing, you're going to have to put a lot of effort into it. If it's not within your personality to be able to put up with the work involved (though personality to some degree can probably be taught, so there's probably some socioeconomic dependence there), then it's unlikely that you're going to be able to make substantial contributions to your field.

That said, I am quite supportive of the Genspace project, for the simple reason that it is a great endeavor from an educational point of view. But that also means that the science done there is probably not going to be of the same caliber as the research that you see done at top academic labs around the world.

Re:science is for everyone, not just a chosen few (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about a year and a half ago | (#42051139)

Well, first, I admit that I was being sarcastic when I listed out those criteria. People aren't chosen to be scientists, and it's extremely disingenuous of the summary's author to claim otherwise. Moreover, what they're doing in bio-hackerspaces isn't even research in most cases—while Genspace is genuinely equipped to do real molecular biology work, the equipment they have is so limited that the kinds of experiments you can perform wouldn't really be worthy of publication. Instead the appeal is more towards synthetic biology and education. Someone somewhere has been blinded to the difference between "science" and "engineering" because biological techniques are involved, which is annoying.

Re:science is for everyone, not just a chosen few (1)

WrongMonkey (1027334) | about a year and a half ago | (#42047853)

None of those are arbitrary requirement meant to exclude people. Science is hard. Making new discoveries means first having an understanding of what's been discovered before (four-year degree) then years of practice to master the skills of contemporary research (five-year research project, ie PhD). Yes, this kind of effort means that there are some implicit socioeconomic requirements, but that's true for any non-trivial endeavor. A bio-hacker space might be a fun way to demonstrate modern biology principles to the public (Extract DNA from strawberry! Express fluorescent protein in yogurt!), but I truly doubt that anyone is going to walk in off the street and do meaningful research without putting in effort comparable to the conventional academic route.

Re:science is for everyone, not just a chosen few (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about a year and a half ago | (#42050883)

There was a bit of sarcasm in my post, I think. You're correct that most people in DIYbio aren't interested in research. It's mostly about hobbyists getting a chance to tinker in a hands-on fashion, perhaps with a practical engineering project if they're ambitious. Even with DIYbio, an outsider contributing to modern biology is as unlikely as an outsider contributing to modern physics—but it would be even moreso without access to these tools. For much the same reason, you wouldn't expect someone working at a regular hackerspace to advance robotics or electrical engineering.

I think the greatest value these labs can provide is in giving senior high school students, high school graduates saving up to go to college, and older people considering a second career the opportunity to give biology a serious cross-examination. As both a programmer and biologist, I've met several CS students who had no idea what biology was about, and were surprised and curious when I explained that it's a giant reverse-engineering project focused on understanding the behaviour of self-replicating molecular machines, and not merely the fine art of sitting around and counting deer as they were taught in high school.

Re:science is for everyone, not just a chosen few (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42046353)

"Are scientists hand-picked by the king now?"

Considering how awful the job market for scientists has been for the last five years and the way companies can get away with treating current and prospective employees it certainly feels this way.

Hehehe (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42047189)

Flatbush

Imagine that (0)

oodaloop (1229816) | about a year and a half ago | (#42048465)

Imagine that you are at 33 Flatbush Ave. in the Brooklyn borough of what David Letterman calls "the world's greatest city." You go to the 7th floor. Congratulations. You have found New York City's community biolab, Genspace.

So if I were to go there, that's where I'd be? Where ever you go, there you are! Funny how that works.

Great (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42049581)

Thanks

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