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Local bioeconomies: can we drive cottage industries with DIY biology tools?
In the same way that 3D printing is revolutionising product manufacturing, low cost biological equipment is changing how we produce novel biotechnology. Microbrewing was the first industry to grab this opportunity. Experimentation with brewing techniques led to a renaissance in local breweries. But what could be next, and how do we develop the skills to work with these technologies outside the lab?
There are now several open biolabs facilities around the world, aiming to help anyone experiment with biological techniques. There are also echoes of the open source computing community, with the same emphasis on shared tools and collaboration. But there are good reasons why this could be a lot harder than programming a 3D printer or producing a website.
Biological organisms do not follow the neat logic of a software program. They interact in unpredictable ways; they need care and time to grow; and, fundamentally, they come with the unknowns of natural systems rather than the order of manmade technologies. The complexities of biology might limit the potential success of amateur initiatives.
As biological tools become part of the armory of today's innovation, is there a new set of skills and norms that come along with these? How does the routine of the lab mash with a creative hack culture? And what level of understanding do you need to do something truly inventive with a petri dish rather than html?
Nesta have teamed up with Manchester's MadLab to run an event on 7 February at their facilities. The workshop is designed as a taster for those with little knowledge of these techniques.
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