Do-it-yourself biology (DIY biology, DIY bio)
is a growing biotechnological social movement in which individuals, communities, and small organizations, study biology and life science using the same methods as traditional research institutions. DIY biology is primarily undertaken by individuals with extensive research training from academia or corporations, who then mentor and oversee other DIY biologists with no formal training. This may be done as a hobby, as a not-for-profit endeavor for community learning and open-science innovation, or for profit, to start a business.
Other terms are also associated with the do-it-yourself biology community. The terms biohacking and wetware hacking emphasize the connection to hacker culture and the hacker ethic. The term hacker is used in the original sense of taking things apart and putting them back together in a new, better way. However, some community members dislike the term due to its second, more widespread meaning referring to illicit activity. The term biohacking is also used by the grinder body modification community, which is considered related but distinct from the do-it-yourself biology movement. The term biopunk emphasizes the techno-progressive, political, and artistic elements of the movement. It is meant as an analogy to either the cyberpunk science fiction genre or the cypherpunk citizen cryptography movement, and its connection to the biopunk science fiction genre is unclear.
The term “biohacking” as well as the concept of do-it-yourself biology as been known as early as 1988.
DIYbio entered the San Francisco programmer and maker communities as early as 2005, through demonstrations of DIYbio experiments. One such example is the CodeCon presentation in 2005 in whichMeredith L. Patterson (another early contributor to the DIYbio network) demonstrated the purification of DNA with common household items during a presentation on SciTools, a recombinant DNA design tool. As DIYbio experiments became the focus of SuperHappyDevHouse hackers, the hobby gained additional momentum. Many hackerspaces, such as Noisebridge, are offering lab space to DIYbio groups, further exposing otherwise biology-naive technologists to the art and science of synthetic biology.
In 2005 Rob Carlson wrote in an article in Wired: “The era of garage biology is upon us. Want to participate? Take a moment to buy yourself a molecular biology lab on eBay.” He then set up a garage lab the same year, working on project he had previously worked at the Molecular Sciences Institute in Berkeley, California.
In 2008, the DIYbio organization was founded by Jason Bobe and Mackenzie Cowell and its first meeting held.
In April 2009, the first conference with a DIYbio focus was held; CodeCon, produced by Len Sassaman and Bram Cohen, replaced 1/3 of its normal program with a special BioHack! track. Along with other early citizen-scientists, Mackenzie Cowell spoke at this event, exposing more of the San Francisco underground code-hacking community to the concepts of DIYbio. DIYBio has now become a popular conference topic; it was the topic of the 2010 Humanity+ Summit at Harvard (subtitled “Rise of the Citizen Scientist”), the Outlaw Biology Summit at UCLA and was included in the program of the Open Science Summit 2010 at University of California, Berkeley.