“Material (R)evolution” From Material ConneXion: THE Library of Industrial Matter & Substances Publishes Its Own “Book” On 3DP Materials

Most of us think of libraries as repositories of traditional books (ink on bound paper) and their digital analogs—information content that is displayed on screens. Material ConneXion, Inc. (MCX) is a company with a mission to identify, organize and present the industrial and commercial materials of our built and manufactured world to those who would create the next “must-have” products. As our 3DP universe is booming, MCX has now responded with “Material (R)evolution: Additive Manufacturing,” an extensive report on the rapidly evolving materials that literally feed Additive Manufacturing and Digital Fabrication.

MCX Additive Manufacturing Report_Page_0013DP is all about turning thoughts into things. The physical substances that make up those “things” are a key element in the Additive Manufacturing/Digital Fabrication process—now represented by the meme or “public brand” of 3D Printing, or 3DP. In February, Hugh Evans, VP Corporate Development & Ventures at 3D Systems Corporation, commented that we are “riding a materials-science revolution” and that 3DPers “now had over 200 certified materials” from which to build their Additive Manufactured products. At the same time, Mr. Evans remarked that the latest suites of 3DP software driving the newest 3D printers were beginning to deliver “10X speed increases.”

In August, Gonzalo Martinez, Director of Strategic Research in the office of the CTO at Autodesk, stated on 3D Printing Podcast that, with Autodesk’s 3DP initiatives, “…we are allowing people to experiment with different materials. Because the game-changer in this industry—besides the capability of the 3D printer—is the quality of the material that can come from that device…There is a need for [improvements] in the materials science…to speed up the process and make it very, very affordable are things that we [at Autodesk] are trying to do…we want to disrupt…the [3DP] industry.”

In effective uses of 3DP, speed of production is one of the main issues with which our 30-year-old—yet “new” to most!—industry is contending. Especially in the consumer marketplace. In the last two or three years, over 200 “desktop” 3D printer manufacturers have joined the contest to gain viable market share. (Interestingly enough—as of last month—54 of these were “underwritten” by the irrepressible crowd-funders of Brooklyn’s Kickstarter alone.)

Most players in this new consumer/prosumer market have tried to leverage everything from lowest price points to highest quality, but none—I believe—have been able to differentiate their offerings based on higher effective production-throughputs.

So, 3DPers are still forced to “braid” the three dissimilar cords of machine design, software intelligence and material composition.  And, as we see, the machine makers (printer-leader 3D Systems) and the software developers (most-important software publisher Autodesk) both point to materials science as the current key to production speed—AND customer-delighting product innovation and solution provisioning.

"Material (R)evolution: Additive Manufacturing"; MCX 3DP Materials Report "State of the Industry" Section Divider

“Material (R)evolution: Additive Manufacturing”; MCX 3DP Materials Report “State of the Industry” Section Divider

Now, Material ConneXion—a unique provider of materials knowledge for designers and makers—has focused on the material needs of 3DP. MCX calls itself “the world’s largest library of innovative, advanced and sustainable materials.” And, it does—quite literally—present a high-tech repository of thing-making “stuff” to its client/users.

Over 7,500 material samples—and growing at between 30 and 50 new specimens per month—are arrayed and showcased on aisles in an fashion that fuses the sensibilities of a library, museum and trade show. “Patrons” of this “library” can look, touch, play, and learn about the physical and manufacturing qualities of the materials in the Material Connexion “collection.”

To buttress its new “rationalization” of 3DP materials, ThinkLAB—the consulting division of MCX—has released the first-of-its-kind report for the Additive Manufacturing space. Entitled “Material (R)evolution: Additive Manufacturing (M{R}:AM), the company—in 100 pages plus—has built on its wide and deep understanding of the literal matter, corporal substance and ineffable flights of stuff that can comprise manufactured goods. This will the first of a quarterly series of MCX digital reports that explore groundbreaking technologies in materials science and its ancillary disciplines.

"Material (R)evolution: Additive Manufacturing"; MCX 3DP Materials Report "Primary Methods of Additive Manufacturing" Section Divider

“Material (R)evolution: Additive Manufacturing”; MCX 3DP Materials Report “Primary Methods of Additive Manufacturing” Visual Glossary Section Divider

Material ConneXion further describes these reports as: “Driven by scientific knowledge and material awareness, Material (R)evolution is a quarterly series of digital reports that offer insight on the latest and upcoming trends and technologies.” In addition, the reports  are designed to support successful decision-making via a deeper understanding of the commercial implications of present and prospective materials, their design empowerment and their innovative uses.

MCX continues, “Through case studies, state of the industry overview and future outlook, expert interviews, a curated selection of new materials, visual glossary and a resource directory, each report provides beginners and professionals an inspiration and resource tool to stay ahead of the competition.”

For instance, one of the most useful complex-knowledge presentations in the Additive Manufacturing Report is the “visual glossary.” These diagrammatic depictions of the current, seven-major, 3DP processes available in the marketplace — plus added-value ancillary information — may be the clearest now to be had. This kind of clarity is just one reason why this direct-order, PDF-formatted Report is worth its cost (US$495.00).

Sarah Hoit, Materials Scientist, Material ConneXion & ThinkLAB; Co-Author, "Materials (R)evolution: Additive Manufacturing"

Sarah Hoit, Materials Scientist, Material ConneXion & ThinkLAB; Co-Author, “Materials (R)evolution: Additive Manufacturing”

To gain a deeper appreciation of Material ConneXion and its innovative offering for our world of 3D printing, I had the opportunity to interview one of the co-authors of M(R):AM. This is Sarah Holt, Materials Scientist, Material ConneXion and ThinkLAB. Sarah holds a Masters of Science from the College of Textiles, North Caroline State University. (With her background in non-woven textiles, liquid repellency and polymers, perhaps Ms. Hoit will innovate a way to closely mimic woven constructs via 3D printing; this kind of “weaving” is already being done in a fashionat the micron-level—by Med Sci technologists working to 3DP functional human tissues.) My questions of Sarah are in bold type in the following sections.

Please explain the mission of your organization and how you help accomplish it.

Material ConneXion helps companies leverage material innovation to create better products and experiences. Through research, cross-industry analysis and strategic planning, we support designers and companies across diverse fields to incorporate innovative, advanced and sustainable materials into their projects and products. Based on the belief that ‘Every Idea Has a Material Solution,’ [the MCX tagline], Material ConneXion offers diverse membership packages, [mimicking the for-profilt 'lending libraries' of the 19th C.], for individual, corporate and academic institutions.”

Further, Ms. Hoit explained that MCX sees itself—first and foremost—as a “consumer-facing research resource” with “a physical, ‘Please Touch’ library…where designers can come” in person for hands-on, material investigations and solutions brainstorming with staff.

How and when did MCX get started?

“[Our Founder] George M. Beylerian [---long involved in creating, marketing and retailing design-related products for the consumer and the contract markets---] started importing plastic furniture [from Italy]. [As a result, he] then went to work for Steelcase in design. Steelcase museum events caused him to start thinking differently about materials. [After 10 years, he] left Steelcase and started Material ConneXion as a resource for designers…MCX was founded in 1997.

“George thought architects and designers would be their first and most important clients.  Instead, their first clients were Victoria’s Secret and Mattel!” [Ah, unintended consequences: sex and toys... ---LG.]

"Material (R)evolution: Additive Manufacturing"; MCX 3DP Materials Report: Minibuilder Robot tracked-vehicle for 3D printing very large objects (here, cementuous materials vessel extruded many feet high)

“Material (R)evolution: Additive Manufacturing”; MCX 3DP Materials Report: Minibuilder Robot tracked-vehicle for 3D printing very large objects (here, cementuous-material vessel extruded many feet high)

I see you wear “two hats”: including Materials Scientist for MCX’s ThinkLAB…

“ThinkLAB—the consulting division of Material ConneXion—provides curated assistance to companies that are looking for new ways to incorporate materials and innovative design into their projects.”

Sarah went on to describe how she might—working with a client—”consult for design and branding people and then [their] engineers,” ultimately acting as a “bridge between engineers and designers”—who employ “two different languages.” She helps build an intra-company connection—that metaphorical “bridge”—and then “stands in the middle and translates.”

What is your business model (how do you make money)?

“All members pay an annual fee that grants them access to the global network of MCX libraries—25 staff here in New York City and 100 around the world at 8 licensees: first, and probably still most important, is in Milan—and comprehensive online database. We provide monthly updates on new materials that have been entered into the library and special programs that spark creative materials thinking, including Active Matter, Spotlight and library leasing programs.

How does MCX interact with its far-flung licensees?

“Licensees do a lot of good work bringing new materials to the attention of the main office. They have their own local libraries. Bankok deals with a lot of natural materials, like bamboo. Milan is involved in leather and fashion materials.

"Material (R)evolution: Additive Manufacturing"; MCX 3DP Materials Report "Directory of Materials" Section Divider

“Material (R)evolution: Additive Manufacturing”; MCX 3DP Materials Report “Directory of Materials” Section Divider

How are you addressing 3DP materials and what products/services are you offering around them now? 

“Material ConneXion has a rich history in 3D printing and its compatible materials—we added our first 3D-printable material to the library in 1997. We recently published the Material (R)evolution report on additive manufacturing because we felt it was an important topic to cover at this time given the recent deluge of content being created on the topic. While there is a slew of information available, we felt there was a lack of basic grounding and understanding, which makes it difficult to navigate for people not intimately engaged in the field.

“Our report offers information about primary machine technologies, case studies, the state of the industry, new materials and future outlook. In conjunction with our report, I will be giving a complimentary webinar on integrating this technology into businesses to help business owners determine whether or not it’s a good fit for their specific needs.”

Three important industries in New York City are fashion, food and furniture. What are the latest 3D printable materials available for these industries?

“While there are a host of new materials, I believe it is the customization of machinery that will bring these industries to life in a meaningful way for consumers.

"Material (R)evolution: Additive Manufacturing"; MCX 3DP Materials Report: Nike "Flyknit" polyester-knitted uppers enable "zoned performance" --- in a single unit --- while reducing the component count from 35 to 2.

“Material (R)evolution: Additive Manufacturing”; MCX 3DP Materials Report: Nike “Flyknit” polyester-knitted uppers enable “zoned performance” — in a single unit — while reducing the component count from 35 to 2.

“There is an abundance of talk about 3D-printed ‘fabric’ and the difficulty in achieving it. While there is work being done in this space, utilizing plastics to form flexible structures, the machinery for the additive manufacturing of textiles has existed since the 1970’s. This process, termed 3D knitting, utilizes the same textile yarns as the garments we wear today, creating complex shapes and fully formed garments straight out of the machine, without cutting and sewing.

“Food is a fascinating ‘printing’ challenge because, to state the obvious, it needs to be made of edible food. Currently, extrusion and powder bed processes are creating a host of food types, from fish and chips to pizza and complex sugar and chocolate sculptures. What’s really interesting here is the secondary processing needed to complete the food, cook the meat and bake the dough.

“Furniture is, in many ways, a discussion of scale—especially as we’re beginning to see 3D-printing processes leave the ‘box,’ which limits build volume. Now we’re seeing that there is no limit to the size of an object being created.”

Direct metal and end-use printing are major vectors in 3DP. From MCX’s point of view, what’s the latest in “direct metal” 3DP materials?

“Metal is appealing because it can offer what we as the consumer see as a “finished” product and Additive Manufacturing can offer improved physical properties in a part over those of some traditional processing techniques. Electron beam melting is providing the temperatures needed for direct metal fabrication.

“Another interesting use of electron beams is the Free Form Fabrication technique being developed at NASA’s Langley research center to produce near-net-shaped parts in a layering process using wire-feed stock in a vacuum chamber.”

And, as a Materials Scientist and a “Substance Librarian,” what else do you see in our 3DP future?

“We see new developments every day, both in the lab and in commercial products. The most interesting for me is the development of [3D] printers that accept materials in standard commodity formats—with that in mind, EVERY material is a ’3D-printable material!’”

C’mon Back!

LAND

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DIY/DIT Synthetic-Biology 3DP? Maker Citizen-BioScientists Build Community Labs For Bio-Hacking (Part 2—Ebola-Epidemic UPDATE)

DIYbio is beginning to bubble up in amateur Bio-Hacker spaces around the world. One email list for the community sports 4,000 plus enthusiasts. The full-blown DIY BioLabs now number 8 to 10 and the associated groups, spaces and meetups add up to 50 or more. Clearly, another tech-based movement is brewing…and this one is all about “wetware”—defining both the “fluid” nature of the work and the organic human brains now engaged with DIYbio…

The OpenTrons open-source, liquid-handling robot built by Will Canine (a Genspace member). The robot---which won an Editor's Choice award from "Make:" Magazine at the World Maker Faire in Queens at the end of September---will be the focus of a Kickstarter campaign in November.

The OpenTrons open-source, liquid-handling robot built by Will Canine (a Genspace member). The robot—which won an Editor’s Choice award from “Make:” Magazine at the World Maker Faire in Queens at the end of September—will be the focus of a Kickstarter campaign in November.

DIYbio is a new sibling in the DigiFab/3DP Family. Healthcare/3D printing hybrid products and systems comprises the fastest growing segment of 3DP today. BioPrinting of functioning tissues and organs—using patient-specific DNA and living cells—is the climax objective of the sector. And, not yet realized—but already conceived, planned and advancing: rapidly.

[In my first post---Part #1---on this topic of DIYbio and BioPrinting, some of the comments I quoted seemed to question whether or not DIY Bio-Hackers should attempt to "play" in the 3DP-driven bioprinting world. Mostly---I think---because the commenters felt the level of technical sophistication and evolving-science knowledge likely would far surpass Bio-Hacker capabilities. But, please let me posit that competing with the Bio/Industrial complex IS precisely where the inherent inventive and innovative nature of Bio-Hacking WOULD certainly add value to the practice of BioPrinting! ---LG.]

Buttressing this accelerating DIYbio action is the fact that venture capital is once again investing in science-based biz launches. The 13 October New York Times—in an article entitled “Venture Capitalists Return to Backing Science Start-ups“—states that “Investment in biotechnology start-ups rose 26 percent in the first half of 2014, to $2.93 billion, from the period a year earlier and is on track to exceed the 2008 peak of $5.14 billion.”

At the end of Part #1 of this post last week, we were examining the issues of DIYbio personal and public safety. I quoted Todd KuikenSenior Program Associate, at the Science and Technology Innovation Program of the Woodrow Wilson Center about Bio-Hackers and their self-regulating safety regimens. Averred Todd—on Ira Flatow’s 3 October 14 SciFri (Science Friday) Public Radio International (PRI) programentitled “Community Labs Practice DIY Biology“The [DIYbio] community is being extremely proactive in terms of issues around bio safety and security to assure the work [Bio-Hackers are doing] is safe.”

DIY BioLabs are beginning to sprout worldwide. Some lower tech than others. Europe tends to be more regulation-constrained than the U.S. So, this effort to make evil-tasting spirulina---a vitamin & protein-rich algae---palatable to humans (at Open Wetlab in Amsterdam) is more cooking than Bio-Hacking.

DIY BioLabs are beginning to sprout worldwide. Some lower tech than others. Europe tends to be more regulation-constrained than the U.S. So, this effort to make evil-tasting spirulina—a vitamin & protein-rich algae—palatable to humans (at Open Wetlab in Amsterdam) is more cooking than Bio-Hacking.

The Wilson Center recently surveyed 359 DIYbio movement members to judge the sophistication—among other attributes—of the most involved Bio-Hackers. Common tasks involved extracting DNA from fruits. Gene synthesis? Only 13% had managed it. Mammalian cell gene engineering? Only 3%. For the moment, DIY BioLabs are NOT training Dr. Frankensteins, tinkering with bootleg Ebola or breeding bio terrorists.

Mr. Kuiken continued to reinforce the responsibility and prudence of the organizations and individuals in the DIYbio movement. He described the greater DIYbio Lab community and its local codes of conduct, safety workshops and transparency efforts.

Todd suggested that these efforts buttressed openness and education. And, when the public can see what pioneering Bio-Hackers are doing, the Life Sci smitten and bio-tech compelled can join in the DIYbio Lab revolution—while everyone applauds. (Including VCs: see the Times article above.) At the same time, public officials can get familiar and comfortable with DIYbio. AND, begin to appreciate the commercial and common-good opportunities this movement offers BioPreneurs (looking for a congenial home) and their local citizenry (looking for community companies to employ them…citizens AND voters!).

Also on award-winning host Ira Flatow’s SciFri show—with Todd Kuiken—was Patrik D’haeseleerComputational Scientist, at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Patrik is a very serious “after-hours” Bio-Hacker.

Just Mr. D’haesleer’s moon-lighting resume showcases pro/am Life Sci chops—and could be the storyline for a Hollywood biopic on a life in DIYbio. He is the Leader of the Bioprinter Project at BioCurious—another full-fledged community DIY BioLab in Sunnyvale, CA. (Typical calendared event: “Synthetic Biology, Biohacking And Vegan Cheese – iGEM Team Meeting”—this last is the International Genetically Engineered Machine event, a yearly synthetic-bio competition for college undergrads.) AND, Patrik is also the Co-Founder of the BioCurious sister-hackerspace for biotech, the new Counter Culture Labs in Oakland, CA.

The Infamous Ebola Virus---progenitor of screaming headlines and raw fear in the U.S. Nonetheless, Ebola is still MUCH MUCH less important than our "everyday" Influenza Virus, which---in a bad year---can kill 50K Americans. Want to worry for a reason? Consider the REAL and PROVEN danger of pandemic flu...

The Infamous Ebola Virus—progenitor of screaming headlines and raw fear in the U.S. Nonetheless, Ebola is still MUCH MUCH less important than our “everyday” Influenza Virus, which—in a bad year—can kill 50K Americans. Want to worry for a reason? Consider the REAL and PROVEN danger of pandemic flu…

Now, the angst over Ebola is abroad in our land. Even though—at this writing—only a single healthcare provider (whoops, make that TWO as of 15 October) in the U.S. has become infected with Ebola. To take the fight against this epidemic to its source—in an understatement: “West Africa faces the largest Ebola epidemic in history”—USAID (United States Agency for International Development) is organizing “Fighting Ebola: A Grand Challenge for Development.”

USAID is partnering—in this Ebola initiative—with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the United States Department of Defense

“We are calling on the global community to share pioneering ideas that deliver practical and cost-effective innovations in a matter of months. Regardless of background, experience or knowledge of Ebola, your bold thinking is necessary to address this crisis, to improve delivery of care, and stem the spread of disease.

Here’s what these U.S. Government organizations are seeking to launch:

An open innovation platform open innovation platform to crowdsource and incubate innovative ideas to improve delivery of care and stem the spread of disease, including improvements in PPE (Personal Protective Equipment);

challenge competition to fund and test innovations for PPE, infection treatment and control; and

Partnerships for rapid testing and deploying the best solutions.

Create Solutions To Fight Ebola. There are two ways YOU can help:  

(1) Engage with an online global community of solvers hosted by OpenIDEO to share your insights and ideas so we can tackle this issue together.  JOIN THE CONVERSATION NOW. 

(2) SUBMIT IDEAS for challenge grants and partnerships – to develop and test innovative solutions and establish critical partnerships.”

USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah sums up the “Challenge” call with this statement:

“Together with our international partners, we will translate the expertise and ingenuity of scientists, innovators, engineers, and students from across the globe into real solutions. With your bold thinking and engagement, we can give health workers the tools they need to win this fight.”

Ellen Jorgensen---modeling a yellow PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) suit---is President of Brooklyn's Genspace, the world's first DIYbio space. A crowd-innovated, hyperspeed-development PPE---because fail-safe Ebola sequestration would appear to need a better one!---was one of the focus efforts at the USAID's two-day meeting on "Fighting Ebola: A Grand Challenge for Development" in early October.

Ellen Jorgensen—modeling a yellow PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) suit—is President of Brooklyn’s Genspace, the world’s first DIYbio space. A crowd-innovated, hyperspeed-development PPE—because fail-safe Ebola sequestration would appear to need a better one!—was one of the focused efforts at the USAID’s two-day meeting on “Fighting Ebola: A Grand Challenge for Development” in early October.

At this moment, DIY Bio-Hackers are serendipitously positioned as newly important islands of biotech knowledge in a (raging!) sea of bio/med/LifeSci ignorance. To be seen as the folks wearing the “white hats” (to the rescue via reason?!), Patrik D’haesleer is helping to identify DIY BioLabs as important—and already deployed—tools of education and action at the befuddled grassroots. 

Still—adding to the fear headlines and saturation scare coverage of the Ebola epidemic (biology run amok crossed with media gone awry)—the threat of bioterrorism also poisons the brew of reasoned discussion. And, prospectively—and negatively—tamps down the ability of DIYbio to grow vigorously at the grassroots.

Tight regulation or flat-out prohibition of DIY BioLabs would simply drive a currently thriving and transparent community underground. DIYers—of all stripes—tend to be anti-establishment by nature. They are seeking forgiveness, not asking permission—a fine old American tradition.

European bureaucracy and regulators have managed to keep Bio-Hackers mostly out of synthetic biology. In most EU countries, DIYers have to obtain a license to operate a genetics lab. Whoops: score another for ‘Preneur-bashing.

In September, The Economist Magazine published an excellent—as usual—compendium overview of the worldwide DIYbio phenom: “Biohackers of the world, unite.” In it, the authors showcased an enlightened FBI(!) demonstrating how a light touch, cooperative attitude and supportive actions can be both winsome AND effective. Here’s a direct quote that gets directly to the points of light:

“In America biohackers used to risk getting arrested, but in recent years the FBI has opted for a more enlightened approach: local special agents talk to community labs; the agency organises an annual DIYbio conference; it is even a sponsor of iGEM. ‘The people who practise DIYbio are best placed to know what is going on,’ says Edward You, who pioneered the FBI’s effort. He also thinks that the agency and the DIYbio movement have a ‘shared responsibility to protect science’. In other words, if things go wrong there will be tighter regulations—making life more difficult for both law enforcement and biohackers.”

 

Ellen Jorgensen---iterating new designs for innovative PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) suits at a DIT (Do-It-Together) workshop hosted by USAID---is President of Brooklyn's Genspace, the world's first DIYbio space.

Ellen Jorgensen—iterating new designs for innovative PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) suits at a DIT (Do-It-Together) workshop hosted by USAID—is President of Brooklyn’s Genspace, the world’s first DIYbio space.

The granddaddy of all the 8 or 10 fully outfitted DIYbio spaces around the world is Genspace of Brooklyn. Founded in 2010 (just to show you how new this all is) as a community laboratory, it has served as a model for how to start and operate such an innovative lab. “Our goal is not only to advance biology, but democratise it,” explains Ellen Jorgensen, Genspace President, in the ultimate spirit of DIY.  Genspace creates and hosts innovative events like “biohacker boot camps” and stewards efforts like the Urban Barcode competition in cooperation with NYC schools.

This last is a great example of combining education, real science orientation and useful leading-edge tech. The Urban Barcode Project (UBP) is a science competition spanning the five boroughs of New York City. Just as a unique pattern of bars in a universal product code (UPC) identifies each item for sale in a store, a DNA barcode is a DNA sequence that uniquely identifies each species of living thing. In the Urban Barcode Project, student research teams use DNA barcoding to explore biodiversity in New York City.

Genspace—and DIYbio movement it helped spawn—presents NYC with another great means to leverage its natural advantages in Healthcare and 3DP. For commerce and common-good, Bio-Hack away…

OBTW, Ellen Jorgensen of Genspace is already deeply involved with the USAID “Grand Challenge” against Ebola. See my captioned pix of her above. (These snaps are courtesy Patrik D’haesleer, who was apparently on the scene at the USAID-sponsored Ebola-response “Challenge” workshop—participating and recording to the max).

C’mon Back!

LAND

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DIY/DIT Synthetic-Biology 3DP? Maker Citizen-BioScientists Build Community Labs For Bio-Hacking

Credentialism be damned! Unabashed amateurs, boundary jumpers and innovators without invitation are brushing aside (or simply ignoring!) the gatekeepers of the biology establishment—and building their own Life-Sci hacking labs. Hey, if the Digi-Tinkerers, iHobbyists and Electro-Makers can command their own hardware-centric places/spaces—and plan to disrupt the planet’s manufactories—then the DIY/DIT (Do-It-Together) “wetware” crowd are self-licensing to be just as ambitious.

Biohacker Marc Juul works on a DIY bio experiment to create vegan cheese by engineering yeast to produce milk proteins. No bovines required! Photo courtesy of Real Vegan Cheese.

Biohacker Marc Juul works on a DIY bio experiment to create vegan cheese by engineering yeast to produce milk proteins. No bovines required! Photo courtesy of Real Vegan Cheese.

Would-be grassroots synthetic-biologists are now empowered by the same Three Disruptors—(1) Personal Computer, (2) Internet and (3) Social Media—as hardware makers. Moore’s Law multipliers—times these three disruptors—are also enabling the democratization of biology (and, I think, ultimately healthcare) via the DIY BioLab.

Bio-Hackers—going forward—are likely to make more intense use of 3DP-driven BioPrinters than digi-hardware maker/users do with traditional-material 3D printers. (According to Maker Media Inc. executives in July, one-third of their worldwide Maker Faire franchise—135+ branded events in 2014—is now driven by 3D printing. And, that percentage will only grow larger year over year.)

As I’ve opined before in this space, 3DP is the Fourth Disruptor. And, the only one of the four disruptors that transforms digits into atoms: Thoughts Into Things.

In the 3 October 14 SciFri (Science Friday) Public Radio International (PRI) program, Ira Flatow—award-winning host—moderated a show-discussion entitled “Community Labs Practice DIY Biology.” (For me, SciFri podcasts via iPhone end up helping to empower my time-shifted life.) Human biology is the substrate for human healthcare. And—as so many would-be patients now consult with “Dr. Google” first—a lot of us are already susceptible to a grassroots-level beginning to the new kind of healthcare experience for which we all crave. DIY Biology sounded like another way to take charge of one of life’s most intimate problems: personal health in an impersonal world— perhaps supported by cellular-level understanding of some of biology’s basics.

(You know I try to follow anything that smacks of present or prospective 3DP usage—especially in the healthcare field or its associated disciplines. And, I’m a devotee of DIY/DIT engines. Still, I was surprised by this “sudden” DIY BioLab exfoliation. Ira is not generally in the breaking-news business. So, I wonder what’s been going on—under my radar—in the Citizen BioScientist world? AND, how I’d managed to miss it!)

The OpenTrons open-source, liquid-handling robot built by Will Canine (a Genspace member). The robot---which won an Editor's Choice award from "Make:" Magazine at the World Maker Faire in Queens at the end of September---will be the focus of a Kickstarter campaign in November.

The OpenTrons open-source, liquid-handling robot built by Will Canine (a Genspace member). The robot—which won an Editor’s Choice award from “Make:” Magazine at the World Maker Faire in Queens at the end of September—will be the focus of a Kickstarter campaign in November.

Here’s how SciFri’s Flatow prefaced the segment on his Web-site’s textual iteration: “At community labs like Brooklyn’s Genspace, the Bay Area’s BioCurious [in Sunnyvale], and Baltimore’s BUGSS, members play around with PCR machines [polymerase chain reaction to amplify segments of DNA via thermal cycling] and bioprinters, extract their own DNA, and make bacteria glow in the dark.” The BioLab monikers alone promise high excitement and techie/hipster verve.

As it turns out, Brooklyn’s own Genspace (“New York City’s Community Biolab”) was the first—in 2009—of the DIY BioLabs to get off the ground nationwide. (Talk about under my very nose…)

To present a flavor for such a pioneering organization’s community-oriented sensibilities, here’s Genspace’s ambitious Mission Statement:

Genspace is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting citizen science and access to biotechnology. Since 2009 we have served the greater New York area by providing educational outreach, cultural events, and a platform for science innovation at the grassroots level.

In December 2010 we opened the first-ever community biotechnology laboratory, a Biosafety Level One facility in Brooklyn, New York, where we offer hands-on courses to the public, provide extracurricular experiences for students, and encourage scientific entrepreneurship, particularly in the fields of molecular and synthetic biology. As a community-based lab, we offer members the unique opportunity to work on their own projects and experience the joy and wonder of science firsthand.

As long ago as 2008—even before any lab actually opened its doors—the DIY BioLab community began to coalesce and organize. One of the first aggregating and education tools of the movement that year was DIYbio.org. For more on this clearinghouse, here’s their own online profile and associated links:

+++

An Institution for the Do-It-Yourself Biologist

DIYbio.org was founded in 2008 with the mission of establishing a vibrant, productive and safe community of DIY biologists.  Central to our mission is the belief that biotechnology and greater public understanding about it has the potential to benefit everyone.

+++

On 2 October, Ira showcased his two guests to help illuminate the grassroots BioLabs Movement. (Hey, if the Maker people can have a “Maker Movement”… BUT what the BioLabs Movement needs is an organization like Maker Media Inc. That is an enabler that can act as the community’s aggregator, media house, think tank, resource store, sales channel and event producer.) These two BioLabs insiders were:

Patrik D’haeseleer
Computational Scientist,
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory;
Leader, Bioprinter Project at BioCurious (Sunnyvale, CA);
Co-Founder of new Counter Culture Labs, Oakland, CA. 

Todd Kuiken
Senior Program Associate, Science and Technology Innovation Program
Woodrow Wilson Centre
Washington, D.C. 

According to Flatow guest Todd Kuiken this DIY/DIT BioLab phenom has already led to the establishment of eight to ten such grassroots laboratories—mostly in big cities on the coasts.

3D BioPrinted Drug Development: Accelerated toxicity testing via “printed” human liver tissue: 
Organovo NovoGen Bioprinter

3D BioPrinted Drug Development: Accelerated toxicity testing via “printed” human liver tissue: 
Organovo NovoGen Bioprinter

People who come to play in nascent BioLab spaces often have no background at all in biology. Still, they are typically professionals in there own fields—often with a personal science-sector history and mindset. This may even include business chops to advance possible DIY BioLab proceeds to commercial and/or common-good status.

Serious Bio-Hacker interests demonstrated at BioLabs can stretch from fermentation for food entrepreneurship (real vegan cheese) to “ghost” organs (populating organ bio-structures with patient-specific stem cells) to life-disease research (toxicity of new drugs).

Would-be Bio-Hackers often find second-hand equipment on Craig’s List for cheap. Other sources of biotech-gear include corporate donations of superseded—but still viable—tech equipment. And, as usual, hackers and makers of all persuasions are expert at repurposing components and systems for “off label” uses. Think—in one SciFri guest example—CD Drive read/write head engines subbing for high-precision stepper motor systems. (Like the ones in the sophisticated Organovo bio printer depicted above.)

In our technology-infused society, Bio-Hackers continue to find that DIY-fostering components, equipment and techniques are accessible and cost-effective.

From my POV, bio printing brings the most excitement to the Life Sci party in the BioLab banquet space. Some 3DP-industry research houses project that in five years HALF of all 3DP business—by dollar volume—will be in the sophisticated use of 3D printing for healthcare.

3D BioPrinted Tissue Via Cellular Inks: Multiple printing “Inks” create human tissue lattice-works with mechanical, electical & organic properties. Jennifer Lewis, Harvard, Prof of "
Biologically Inspired Engineering."

3D BioPrinted Tissue Via Cellular Inks: Multiple printing “Inks” create human tissue lattice-works with
mechanical, electical & organic properties. Jennifer Lewis, Harvard, Prof of “
Biologically Inspired Engineering.”

Bio printing is the use of living cells to 3D-print bio-active tissues. The ultimate healthcare goal is fully functional—and patient-DNA-specific—human organs that can be transplanted successfully longterm without the immense problems of tissue rejection.

SciFri guest Patrik D’haeseleer commented that Bio-Hackers usually stay away—at least for now—from bio printing in their DIY environments for two reasons.

First is the high-maintenance requirements of human cells. They are simply very fragile and would demand constant attention. The second is that bio printing is one of the most commercially contested areas of 3DP at the moment. It’s not an area in which DIYers would seem to be able to contribute much—because of the inherent cost of matching rapidly advancing technology. (I might posit that this latter issue is precisely the reason why the inherent inventive and innovative nature of Bio-Hacking COULD probably add value to the practice of bio printing!)

Exchanging with his guests, Moderator Ira directly addressed one of the public’s major perceived concerns about Bio-Hacking. This is especially prevalent at the sophistication level of rapidly developing bio printing. Are we likely to see a new Dr. Frankenstein 3D- print organs for his additive-manufactured monster? “He’s alive!…but his cerebral-cortex build has slumped…!”

SciFri Flatow remarked, “Usually—when Do-It-Yourself Bio is covered, Todd, in the media—the concern is ‘amateur scientists breeding super-viruses.’” Todd Kuiken presented one antidote to journo sensationalism. He discussed a professional survey done to debunk the more flamboyant headlines that are presented in the “if it breeds, it leads” mode of newspaper salesmanship.

Most of the techniques and experiments Bio-Hackers are doing are relatively safe. Furthermore, the Wilson Center and  DIYbio.org started the “Ask Program.” This is a BioLab partnership with members of the American Biological Safety Association. The goal is to give DIY experimenters access to bio safety pros—to enable the relay of questions and answers about experiments. “The [DIY bio] community is being extremely proactive in terms of issues around bio safety and security to assure the work [Bio-Hackers are doing] is safe,” said Todd.

As Ira remarked, the ebola epidemic is on everyone’s minds… This is perhaps the perfect example of contagion unleashed by system failures—compounded by a lack of understanding and appropriate action among stricken populations.

Ira Flatow, SciFri and guest leaders in the world of DIY BioLabs were convincing in their answers to safety questions. All while they were compelling in their presentations of the grassroots virtues growing at the BioLab community level. Citizen BioScientists are out to breed solutions to biology ignorance and irrational fears—for the betterment of our citizenry and our society.

C’mon Back!

LAND

 

 

 

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