Checking Ourselves Before Wrecking Ourselves:Co-Evolving Innovation and Safety in the DIYBio Community

Co-Evolving Innovation and Safety – The Origin Story

Since its inception in 2008, the DIYBio community has grown at a rapid pace. In 2019, it is a movement of bioartists, biohackers, biomarkers, DIY Biologists, community biologists, and members of independent and community laboratories that spans the globe. This movement’s mission: to educate and empower individuals, innovate new media and platforms, and create a better world for individuals, communities, and the world through the life sciences.

As the community expands its research interests and grows more sophisticated in its approach, community members saw a growing need to improve safety practices in their personal and community lab spaces. To address this need, Dan Grushkin (of Genspace and Biodesign) and Todd Kuiken (of iGEM and North Carolina State University) received funding to develop a biosafety bootcamp course for DIYBio and Community Labs.

Co-Evolving Innovation and Safety – New Friends

The Baltimore UnderGround Science Space (BUGSS) community lab hosted this event in Baltimore, MD on August 25-27th, 2019. In the true spirit of co-evolution, BUGSS housed community labs and biohackers from across the globe to come together, learn together and from each other, and ultimately take back what they learned to their spaces to improve or develop biosafety practices.

We had a fantastic set of professional biosafety officers from The Association for Biosafety and Biosecurity International (ABSA) to facilitate our learning and guide us on our biosafety journey. Their approach to biosafety training was one uniquely suited to the DIYBio community: there is never one “perfect” solution. Rather than try to follow the examples of others blindly, the ABSA professionals encouraged the community to innovate solutions and practices that align with the community’s unique needs, practices, and beliefs. By the end of the bootcamp, it was no big stretch to say we had made a couple of new friends and allies!

Co-Evolving Innovation and Safety – Old Friends

Geographic and financial constraints often limit our interactions to phone calls and e-mails. Any opportunity to bring different community labs and biohackers together is a rare one. Whether over a sandwich during lunch, a breakout session for an interactive portion of the bootcamp, or relaxing over a great dinner, the community members found ways to talk about their passions, their latest projects, and possible ways to collaborate on new ventures (including ones to help better understand and implement biosafety practices in lab spaces)!

Co-Evolving Innovation and Safety – A New Beginning…Sort of

As DIYBio continues to grow and spread to new areas, what DIYBio means and how it manifests will change based on the desires and needs of local practitioners. However, what will not change is the commitment that DIYBio members have for balancing innovation and independence with safe practices to protect themselves and those around them.

How does the community achieve this? By continuing to co-evolve and leverage what the DIYBio community has always done:

  1. Pooling resources to build capabilities that are greater than the sum of its parts.
  2. Forming networks to bring in new knowledge, new skills, new expertise, and new perspectives.
  3. Finding unconventional solutions to conventional problems.
  4. Working from the ground up to build a better future.

While this may have been the inaugural biosafety bootcamp, this is certainly not the last. Reach out and let’s continue to co-evolve innovation and safety to leave the world better, and safer, than when we entered it!