What do you want to know about DIY bio?

Poster by DIYBio. Used under a CC license.
Poster by DIYBio.org CC

Do it yourself biology, DIY bio for short, is the idea that DIY projects don’t have to be just about crafts, home repair, or electronics. Promoters argue that the tools needed to take apart, alter, and put back together living organisms should be as widely available as other sorts of tools.
Cathal Garvey is a synthetic biologist on a mission to make DIY bio more accessible to everyone. His latest project is Indie Biotech Backbone, IndieBB for short. This project includes “a DNA system designed to help you and your friends to explore genetic engineering and synthetic biology by making fluorescent bacteria at home.” He’s got some creative ideas for DIY projects, including Hacking Your Own Fluorescent Yogurt and Biosynthesis of Insulin and Thyroxine.
Cathal has created a Technical FAQ about IndieBB that may answer some of your questions. If you haven’t been following his IndieGoGo campaign, this is a great opportunity to ask Cathal about the project (as well as as his other work).
In his own words:

I believe that biotechnology, being the oldest human technology and the one with the most potential for world-changing impact, belongs in the hands of individuals, not just corporations and government-funded institutes. Biotech can be used to create cheap antibiotics on-site in Africa, to create biofuels from household wastes, and to help us grow more food with less chemicals, water and land. However, there’s little commercial incentive to give us these freedoms; for the best of biotech to emerge, individuals and communities must be enabled to engineer life.
Worldwide, the DIYbio movement is taking hold and generating interest in community biotech. However, looking for tools and platforms for development can result in disappointment. Most available platforms are crude implementations of institutional techniques, requiring expensive ingredients and equipment and a lot of know-how.
I aim to provide affordable, open-source-DNA development platforms, kits and strains for beginners to learn the engineering of bacteria easily, and perhaps later to facilitate engineering of plants and simple bugs such as Sea Monkeys. I hope that through my efforts and those of my friends and collaborators, we can change the face of biotech, and perhaps change some lives for the better in the process.


Cathal Garvey. Photo provided by Cathal.
Cathal Garvey. Photo provided by Cathal.

Cathal Garvey is an independent synthetic biologist working in a converted bedroom in Cork, Ireland. His goal is a vibrant, patent-free, and open-source platform for biotechnology. This platform will allow anyone with the desire, even those without training, to explore (and possibly improve!) the living things that surround and support them.
Cathal’s past projects include Dremelfuge, a 3D-printable lab centrifuge rotor for common multitools, and PySplicer, a Free/Libre Software system for advanced genetic design. Cathal is currently crowdfunding for a genetic-engineering beginner’s kit, Indie Biotech Backbone, or “IndieBB”.
He tweets as @onetruecathal.


  1. I’m very uncomfortable with this. It’s far too easy to create really dangerous pathogens if somebody wanted to. Once you can do de novo gene synthesis at home, who will stop you from sticking ricin or anthrax toxin into all sorts of bacteria? I’m assuming (hoping!) that if I actually tried ordering these genes from a company like GenScript today, the police would be knocking at my door within hours.

  2. I guess the way I see it the “bad guys” can already make “bad things” pretty easily. Expanding access to genetic engineering would make it easier for people to make neutral or even helpful things.

  3. I guess my point is that genetic engineering has the lowest logistical threshold for dual use. Sure, if you know a bit of chemistry you can make class A drugs or explosives fairly easily but the damage that could do is still fairly contained. Someone with skills in nuclear engineering could theoretically make a nuclear bomb but the materials you would need to accomplish that without being found out makes it very unlikely that someone could do it in their own garage. But making Botox Arabidopsis is just as easy as making GFP Arabidopsis. Making multiresistant bacteria is child’s play. Even virus engineering is getting easier by the day.

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