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This past weekend, the World Maker Faire in NYC had a wide range of makers showcasing a variety of projects and skills. Front and center was the New York chapter of DIYbio, a scientific outreach group of local citizen scientists, and the BioBus, a mobile microscopy lab built on a 1972 transit bus. For the event, DIYbio and the BioBus teamed up to build NYC’s first-ever fully mobile molecular biology lab.

The bus was a flurry of activity from both parties, inside and out. The simpler and faster activities on the outside included “making” DNA from strawberries using only household reagents (salt, soap, meat tenderizer, and alcohol) as well as visualizing small planktonic crustaceans, called Daphnia, through one of the BioBus’s microscopes with a flat panel display.

Inside the bus, things got a little more intimate. Instead of extracting DNA from berries and visualizing crustaceans, participants got to work with cells from their very own cheeks. They could see them up close and personal with a BioBus scope as well as extract and test their own DNA for a gene responsible for tasting a bitter chemical called PTC. Because molecular biology work takes a bit longer than anyone wanted to stick around, with all the other awesome things happening at the Faire, the DIYbio crew finished analyzing the samples and later emailed participants with the results. After exhausting their reagents, the group was able to teach three dozen people how to test their own samples as well as the hundreds that were extracting DNA outside. DIYbio and the BioBus even won a MAKE magazine Editors’ Choice award for their efforts!

This same group, brought together through DIYbio, created GenSpace – a member-based lab in Brooklyn, NY. Each member has pet interests they pursue in the space while collectively working on scientific outreach and education projects that benefit the group (such as DIY DNA extractions at farmers markets and Maker Faire). 

In attendance at Maker Faire was the entire GenSpace crew:

 Russell Durrett, Team Leader for 2010 NYU iGEM Team (and research assistant in the Piano Lab @ NYU in a more professional capacity)
, Ellen Jorgensen, PhD – Adjunct Faculty at New York Medical College, 
Daniel Grushkin – Independent journalist for such editorials as National Geographic and The Scientist, 
Nurit Bar-Shai, and Sung won Lim.

For more info, check out the DIYbio NYC Blog and the GenSpace website.

Bio: Eri Gentry is a biotech entrepreneur, citizen science community organizer, and the co-founder of BioCurious, the first hackerspace for biotech, in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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