Etech Session Liveblogging: Real Hackers Program DNA (Ginkgo Bioworks)

GB is “Making the process of engineering biology easier.”

ben-plasmid.jpgSynth bio is the idea that biology is a technology to engineer novel systems- say drugs, biofuels, other sexy sexy projects.

This is to be a flavor of what engineering biology is all about.

We will be installing a program into E coli to make it turn red, glow in the dark, or smell like bananas… We get to pick!

The DNA is stapled to the pages that describe them in the notebook.
Some of the tools of synth bio: biobricks, interchangeable components that can be strung together into programs. The parts registry lets you snap programs together.

iGem participants get a kit in the mail and pick out parts and mix and match them into new programs they want- much like the one we’re holding. The Scottish team made and E coli that turned red in response to arsenic contamination.

Standardized interchangeable components are limited, but let a lot more people get involved and democratizes access to the tools. This is still biology- it can seem kind of scary- do you trust your neighbor to engineer biology?

Question from the audience: how do you prevent the terrorists from building smallpox?
Answer: You can’t perfectly. “How do you prevent a car bomb from blowing up outside?” You don’t, but you can limit it, and create a community that self polices.

Question from the audience: What about release? Would the arsenic detector be scattered on the ground?
Answer: We don’t understand how manufactured organisms will interact with the environment. We work with safe organisms, and we don’t release our stuff. These E coli are pretty innocuous, so we’re going to wash our hands before lunch.

It’s pretty unlikely that anyone is going to make anything in a lab that’s dangerous right now, but we should think about that.

It’s a bit legally gray, the guidelines everyone follows are only required for people receiving NIH funding, and there’s some places with local laws (like Cambridge) … There’s no clear answer.

We’re punching out our DNA and dropping it in cells. (Ben has returned our vial, #19 and #10 to ice, while the receptive cells take up our dna)

We’re installing on a plasmid. “You’re literally just mixing the plasmid DNA with the cells.” These cells are competent, which means they can take up DNA easily. We cool the DNA, then do a heat shot- then shock it in a 42 degree water bath for 30 seconds, time it, put it back on ice for two minutes. We’re disrupting the membrane of the cells and letting them recover. Then we’re adding media, food for the cells. Then we’re incubating them with our bodies. I’m going to keep mine in my armpit, I think.

Can’t mix the three bit of dna, because they’re the same plasmid – they are ampecillin resistance plasmid, so there’s a space collision, things aren’t likely to play well together. is a good place to learn about good lab practices.

I am now heading to lunch, incubating a tube of e coli in each armpit. (Will update with pictures after lunch)

Update: I’ve now transferred my E. coli to a petri dish and a vial, freeing my arms.ecoli.jpg

…and no, I was in a hurry, and I didn’t wash my hands before lunch. Phear my bad lab skillz. (& Know your organisms.)

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