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Biohacking and Synthetic Biology

This page replicates the texts and images from the wall outsite the open science space at Medical Museion.

Biotechnology is usually locked away in universities and private industrial laboratories, but biohackers and do-it-yourself (DIY) biologists want to set it free. Biohackers aim to make the tools of biotech available to everyone. They set up public labs where people can come and experiment, and produce cheap ‘hacks’ that replace expensive equipment.

Biohacking is also about innovation, creativity and playfulness. Doing things differently, using the resources to hand. Dreaming big, but requiring little. This room is an installation of a biohacking lab. Cobbled together from discarded lab furniture, IKEA cupboards and inexpensive handmade instruments, the lab itself is a hack.


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Why do Biohacking?

Taking things apart and putting them back together helps you understand how they work. Biohackers argue this is true for biology as well as for motorbikes. Understanding how things work also invites us to remake them – in other words, to innovate.

So who benefits from innovation? Many biohackers want to democratize science so share their findings freely. At the same time hackerspaces are often seedbeds for commercial production.

Biohacking is also a social activity. Like community art or guerilla gardening, it gets people together to make things that use and improve their surroundings. But is biohacking really for anyone, or only those with time and education? If biohacking is not just cutting edge science, but also about baking rye bread and making yoghurt at home, are we all hackers?

Click here for a list of biohacking labs around the world. Click on the map and photos below to see the variety and breadth of the global DIY biology movement.

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Hacking and Synthetic Biology

Hacking can be described as customizing the world with simple means. It’s often thought of in terms of computing and electronics, but the idea of hacking is now being applied to cells and organisms.

The new field of synthetic biology has been key to making this possible. Synthetic biologists see biology as something that can be engineered, and DNA as a code that can be programmed (or hacked). Scientists are working on customized cells to produce fuel or medicine, and pieces of DNA can even be ordered online.

The following are some examples of what you can do with biohacking. For concrete do-it-yourself recipes, click here.

Build a Microscope

Build a Microscope

Use microscopes to peer at the world of biotechnology – from skin to DNA.  Build it from cheap components, or try one out at an open lab.
Paint with Microbes

Paint with Microbes

Paint with living microbes. The better you know how your microbes grow, the more complex patterns you can make.
Make a Cultivation Chamber

Make a Cultivation Chamber

Prove that you can cultivate fresh green plants in a Danish basement! The cultivation chamber is made from aquarium tanks and pumps.
Make an Ecosystem

Make an Ecosystem

Make a self-sustaining ecosystem out of plants, animals and pond scum. This is a simple step toward building biospheres.
Build a Bioreactor

Build a Bioreactor

Build a ‘bioreactor’ to produce a continuous supply of algae. Algae are used to study ecosystems, experiment with biofuels and make bioart sculptures.