Monday, May 27, 2013

DIY Barcoding

In 2008 Mackenzie Cowell and Jason Bobe created an organization dedicated to making biology an accessible pursuit for citizen scientists, amateur biologists and biology professionals. In so-called "biohacklabs", such as Genspace, amateur biologists can come together to create projects, whether just for fun, but also to improve their knowledge or engage in existing projects contributing to current research efforts.

The movement now spawned another community supported Do-It-Yourself (DIY) biology laboratory now in Seattle, Washington. Financed by crowfunding, grants and membership fees the community lab HiveBio will be opening soon and allow amateurs to do e.g. DNA analysis that used to be the domain of professional researchers. Anyone 16 or older will be able to use the lab if they pay HiveBio's membership fee (as low as $50 a month) or a $15 drop-in fee.

It has been repeatedly shown how inclusive DNA Barcoding can be when it comes to citizen science and there are already projects at Genspace that take advantage of the fact that is has become so accessible (and to some extend affordable). 

In addition to providing a lab space HiveBio focuses some of its resources on proliferating science education in the Pacific Northwest. Classes, conducted on a volunteer basis by members, are held on a monthly basis at the lab. The long-term goal of the education branch of HiveBio is to expand the education opportunities to include classes taught off-site at educational institutions throughout Seattle. These classes will be offered for a minimal fee.

One major objective of the organization is inclusivity. HiveBio keeps the cost of membership as low as possible in order to be accessible to citizen scientists of a wide array of incomes. It is the intention of the organization to attract individuals of all education levels, from PhD to entry level science enthusiasts. Housing a wide array of knowledge is central to the theme of proliferating science knowledge. Members will be both learning and teaching in this context. We believe that diversity is a key elements of science innovation.

HiveBio is also interested in providing a pathway to scientific publication for its members. In addition to providing the space and equipment necessary for research, HiveBio will provide members with information on the steps and protocol required for scientific publication.

Just an excerpt of their objectives which I find very promising. What all these new entities need aside from money and supplies is buy in from us researchers. I know that many colleagues are hesitant and skeptical about amateur-driven science but I believe they underestimate the power of dedication and the willingness of people to become so deeply involved in a project simply because they have access to the same tools we use.   Actually any such project has much more academic freedom than professional research that is often limited by funding, personal career planning, policy, and sometimes governmental strategy. 

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