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Rob Carlson, author of Biology is Technology: The promise, perils, and new business of engineering life, was recently in the Bay Area to deliver a talk to the California Assembly Select Committee on Biotechnology. His presentation focused on the role of small businesses and garage hackers in innovating the new bioeconomy. You can see his slides here.

While he was in the area, he visited some folks doing biology hacking in their garages. On his blog, he writes:

I spent most of one Saturday hanging out at a garage biology lab in Silicon Valley. When I walked in the door, I was impressed by the sophistication of the set-up. The main project is screening for anti-cancer compounds (though it wasn’t clear to me whether this meant small molecules or biologics), and the people involved have skillzzz and an accumulation of used/surplus equipment to accomplish whatever they want; two clean/cell-culture hoods, two biorobots (one of which is being reverse engineered), incubators, plate readers, and all the other doodads you might need. They aren’t messing around. I didn’t get into the details of the project, but the combination of equipment, pedigree, and short conversations with the participants told me all I needed to know. That doesn’t mean they will be successful, of course, just that I believe they are yet another example of what can be attempted in a garage. This sort of effort is where new jobs, new economic growth, and, most importantly, desperately needed new technologies come from. Garage innovation is at the heart of the way Silicon Valley works, and it is envied around the world.

Garage Biology in Silicon Valley

Gareth Branwyn

Gareth Branwyn is a freelancer writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture, including the first book about the web (Mosaic Quick Tour) and the Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Building Robots. He is currently working on a best-of collection of his writing, called Borg Like Me.


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