A Biotech Lab In Every Garage, Or In Every Library?

from the would-you-like-some-bacteria-with-that-book? dept

The garage startup occupies a mythic place in the technology world, with famous examples ranging from HP to Google. On the basis that if it worked for computers, it might work elsewhere, Rob Carlson wants to try it for biotech startups:

if we want to maintain a healthy pace of innovation in biological technologies, it makes sense that we will need to foster a profusion of garage biotech labs.
For those worried about the safety implications of synthetic biology labs springing up all over the place, he points out:
the emerging model of community labs (Genspace, Biocurious, etc.) is a good foundation to build on. The FBI already has a program in place to engage these labs. And as it turns out, the President has already signed a document that states garage biology is good and necessary for the future physical and economic security of the United States.
Those community labs mentioned are non-profit, which underlines an interesting divergence from the prototypical garage startups:
Not for profit and community engagement is definitely the way to go. I think most medium to large U.S. cities could support at least one community biotech lab.
That makes sense, since it would allow a collaborative, open source approach to developing this new area. That's not the only difference from the classic garage startup; Carlson thinks that garages might not actually be the best place to locate them:
I suggest that, following the recent model of installing Fab Labs and Hackspaces in public libraries, the USG should encourage the inclusion within libraries and other underused public spaces of community biotech labs. There are endless benefits to be had from following this strategy.
Maybe; but what would it mean for the great garage startup tradition?

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Reader Comments (rss)

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  1. icon
    Michael Ho (profile), Dec 28th, 2011 @ 12:53am

    I'm inclined to think that lab safety and environmental protections would make "real garages" unlikely places to do significant biotech.

    Just soldiering together some circuits in a garage is a completely different hazard than undertaking biological experiments of any significance. Heck, if you even want to produce commercial-scale food stuffs, you need a license to do so because your products could make people/animals seriously sick.

    I'm all for innovative biotech startups, but let's not cut corners on safety and environmental protections just because we think it's cool to grow some microscopic organisms.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    mike allen (profile), Dec 28th, 2011 @ 1:37am

    I'm with Michael Ho on this the safety implications are far too hazardous. this garage start ups ok for electronics but what next a garage morgue or forensic lab?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Ilfar, Dec 28th, 2011 @ 1:43am


    Staggering numbers of people die in their own homes every year...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 28th, 2011 @ 2:21am

    I wonder ... if these labs are community-focused and non-profit, would the results of any research done there be "open source?" (As in, public domain or CC-licensed, not encumbered by paid licensing for copyrights or patents.)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 28th, 2011 @ 2:39am


    > if these labs are community-focused

    As is pointed out, the community is sometimes going to be the guinea pig, so of course it should reap the benefits. Grimly or happily, as it may be.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 28th, 2011 @ 2:41am

    A good idea, but could backfire in so many ways. I mean, imagine that one of those labs accidentally releases a dangerous virus or a multi-resistant bacteria into the wild. That could really ruin your day.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    abc gum, Dec 28th, 2011 @ 4:46am

    garage labs

    This has been going on for some time - meth labs.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 28th, 2011 @ 5:05am


    Then you learn from it.
    Besides you already have a biolab is called a kitchen.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 28th, 2011 @ 5:09am

    Re: I'm inclined to think that lab safety and environmental protections would make "real garages" unlikely places to do significant biotech.

    Do you not cook?
    Brewing beer is ok, but not making penicillin, or insulin?
    There will be risks and there will be a lot of accidents and bad things, but there could also be a very big reward.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 28th, 2011 @ 5:14am

    I'm all for this, without trying nobody will ever know.
    I would love to see every kitchen producing some medicine.
    Every house producing penicilin, insulin or any other raw material.

    Everybody already has a biotech lab in their homes is called a kitchen.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    DC, Dec 28th, 2011 @ 5:36am


    Yea, just check out my fridge.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 28th, 2011 @ 6:36am

    Re: Re:

    Did you already identify the mold growing in there?

    By the way that is how Penicillin was discovered :)

    Fleming recounted that the date of his discovery of penicillin was on the morning of Friday, September 28, 1928.[18] It was a fortuitous accident: in his laboratory in the basement of St. Mary's Hospital in London (now part of Imperial College), Fleming noticed a Petri dish containing Staphylococcus plate culture he had mistakenly left open, which was contaminated by blue-green mould, which had formed a visible growth. There was a halo of inhibited bacterial growth around the mould. Fleming concluded that the mould was releasing a substance that was repressing the growth and lysing the bacteria.

    Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penicilin

    Remember when people made their own soap, brew their beer and wine, made their own bread, composted everything?

    A lot of prized foods today are results of chemical reactions that were discovered by accident induced by microorganisms.

    Ancient lubricants:
    Such soaps are also used as thickeners to increase the viscosity of oils. In ancient times, lubricating greases were made by the addition of lime to olive oil.

    Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soap

    Cheese is a biotech technology.
    Natto is a biotech technology.
    Beer is a biotech technology, that by the way, the same process used to make tones of beer was used to manufacture Penicillin in mass.
    Wine is a biotech technology.
    Bread is a biotech technology.

    And so many other things.

    Biotechnology (sometimes shortened to "biotech") is a field of applied biology that involves the use of living organisms and bioprocesses in engineering, technology, medicine and other fields requiring bioproducts.

    Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biotech

    Imagine a box that you put the leftover from oils and fat and churns out soap for you, or biodiesel, or a box that produces insulin, penicillin or another drug and the only thing you need to do is feed the organism that lives there.

    Imagine if your community health center was able to have researchers doing that kind of stuff there and transferring the knowledge to people who live nearby and producing things they needed inside their communities.

    Your home becomes a living organism, that produces the basic things you need to survive increasing your quality of life while reducing costs, increasing knowledge and making the social fabric more robust and less prone to volatile situations.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    DrGonzo4206975, Dec 28th, 2011 @ 9:06am

    This has already been going on...

    A company originally named Molecular Probes (now part of Life Technologies) was started this very way, in the founder's Kitchen and Garage in Minnesota then moved to Texas finally ending up in Oregon by Dick Haugland.


    http://en.wikipedia.or g/wiki/Molecular_Probes

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Daniel, Dec 28th, 2011 @ 9:25am

    Funding for Community Labs

    This is such a great post. One of the reasons we recently launched our new crowdfunding site for scientific research was to provide funding for just this kind of project. FundaGeek is the first crowdfunding platform expressly for scientific research and technology. We're seeking projects in the physical and life sciences, engineering and math/science education. Please visit us at: www.fundageek.com You may also find a compelling project you might want to support.



    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. icon
    Hephaestus (profile), Dec 28th, 2011 @ 11:02am

    Re: Funding for Community Labs

    I was going to click report then clicked insightful instead.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. icon
    artp (profile), Dec 28th, 2011 @ 2:41pm

    Biotech today usually means Genetic Engineering

    I read the comments, and there certainly is a lot of excitement out there!

    However, simple projects are probably not going to create great new industries that will save our economy. Calling beer brewing biotech seems just a little like flim-flam to me. It just isn't that complex. I'm not a beer bewer, but I am a wine-maker, so I have some sense of how hard it is.

    My problem with Biotech is that it is based on some potentially dangerous processes that have not been put through a PUBLIC review. Yes, genetic engineering has been FDA approved. If you look at the record, though, the FDA has not made public the research and testing that made the approval possible. It is claimed that the technology would be stolen if it were made public: the corporate assets need to be protected.

    Excuse me if I object, but the Food and Drug Administration is there to protect the interests of the PUBLIC, not of the CORPORATION. If the FDA is willing to make public the studies that back up the claims that biotech is safe, then I am willing to take a look at it. There are only two public studies available that looked at the safety of genetic engineered food, and both showed that there were problems with human health, including inflammation of the stomach wall.

    In addition, the normal FDA approval process was short-circuited for genetic engineered products. The main sticking point for me is that the patents claim that genetic engineered products are new and substantially different from existing products. The FDA applications, however, claim that the genetic engineered products are functionally equivalent to existing foods. Which is it? Either the patent application was lying, or the FDA application was lying. It can't be both true and false at the same time. I'm looking for some prison time for somebody here for lying to the government.

    The FDA backed up the assertion that genetic engineered products are functionally equivalent to existing products, thus cutting short any requirement for more testing, removing any requirement to keep genetic engineered products isolated until safety could be proven. Isolated to me means not in your garage!!!!

    I am not claiming any expertise that would let me tell you whether genetic engineering is safe or not. But, based on my industrial experience in applying FDA regulations for food, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals, I call foul on the FDA approvals of genetic engineering until full and proper FDA review has occurred in a public manner. The jury is still out. Let's not settle for the sham FDA approval and settle back into a false sense of security on these things. The public wants to know.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 29th, 2011 @ 12:28am

    We already have garage biolabs. We just commonly call them methlabs instead.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 29th, 2011 @ 8:14am

    This reminds me of the biotech labs running out of shipping containers and hovels in The Dervish House. Combine biotech with garage rapid prototyping and you got yourself an impending revolution in technology and perhaps even the idea of patents.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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