Biotinkering in Berlin, Germany

I am a life scientist and philosopher. Bioinformaticist and I do ?? stuff. I am also a part of CCC in terms of direction. DIYbio wise, I first got in contact with that in 2007 or 2008 in Seattle. That never took off sadly, and then I had to go back to Germany and my visa expired. I thought damn, I would really like to have a lab. So I built a lab in late 2008 in Berlin.

Then I ewnt to Vienna for a whle and had to setup a second lab colocated with the space agency who had just moved to a new location. So that's where we are now. Space Agency is a hackerspace that has nothing to do with space, they just thought it was a cool name.

This is the Space Agency. We have all the standard hackerspace stuff like 3d printers, welding, laser cutters and CNC machines. They have very helpful and friendly members. I can just go to someone and tell them I need this sort of object that looks lik that roughly, then we set about making that. They are looking at a bigger space, it used to be .. now it's arts and cultures space. Lots of crazy artists living there.

The Stratgraten is an extension, an ubarn farming project, open to the public some days at least. This complex has been directing the perception of both what we do and what to do. It's very much artsy stuff and ecotree hugger thing.

So this is what the lab looked like when we moved in. It was that room originally. We are having this competition in the hackspace about who has the smaller lab, I think we have the smallest lab, but we can take a tape measure to that sometime. That's what the lab looks like today. This should give you an idea for dimensions. So one person can work on this, but two not so much.

That's on the website if you are interested. I paid for the equipment myself and I pay for rent too. That should change eventually. I am really excited about people. For a long time I was doing it on my own and became very lonely, and every time I was busy for other things, the whole thing just lulled. So in March we started the DIYbio group, Sascha is usually there and some other people. About 10 people at each meeting, 4 or 5 probably. Interesting, since we've been talking about amateur biology, most of them have masters or PhDs in molecular biology or medicine. So I am the only oen that doesn't have training in biology.

We have some affiliations with the German Pirate Party. We have one member who is an activist, hes with this association that has been lobbying against GMO or genetic engineering for the last 15 years.

Another interesting thing is that the people that, some of them are very frustrated with the academic system in Germany in particular and the narrow scope that you have to do there. You're a one-trick pony and you don't get much space to look left or right. It's been mostly discussions up until now, just sitting around having a beer. One guy we had talking about revying ancient bacteria from an old drink called Vaiereiq Viceera... so he has been trying to revive these ancient bacteria and yeast, because the stuff you can buy today is not the same as was in this famous drink. So he's trying to recreate this with a friend of his.

This is the goal. This is the same program. One thing especially about is this whole idea of explorer scientists that were traveling down the Amazons. Alexander bloomaunt was a bit of a wacko but was sorta interesting, he was touching all the animals he found just to see what happened. As you see, in Germany, is kind of impartial independent of electronics right sort of like the EFF but more with the hacker slant. They demonstrate that something is wrong. They have become a respected independent part of societal technological developments. We need something like this for biotech. Right now we have biotech big business, tree huggers and academia. And there should be something that we can be proud of.

Activities. Forensics. I have been doing a lot of equipment getting; used equipment and whatnot. Building devices for myself, not so much because I think they should be open source (I do think they should be), but it's a side-effect of me having to build things to my own specs. Figuring out low cost protocols has been time consuming.

Problems and issues- lots of regulations in Germany. Bit of a problem. We have this strong public opposition against GMO in Germany and in the European Union. They think it's a good selling point to put things on the milk cartons like it was GMO'd. I don't knwo what that means. I am sort of worried about anti-GMO activists showing up on my door step. We'll see where that goes.

We have trouble acquiring materials. Some of the companies think it's perfectly safe, but they won't ship it anyway. I had to bouncei t off of a friend at a credible research institute in Berlin, which is sorta linked to the whole anti GMO sentiment. At some point we should document all this so that others may learn from my incompetence. We should all start doing that. We're bound to discover when thinsg are not suitable to being substitutes. You can't use ikea glass beakers because they will explode in your hands.

One thing I've learned just last week is that there's an exemption in German law about engineering.. you can do some engineering, and it's probably relevant to the other European countries. They probably also have this paragraph. As long as you wrok with ecoli and only take DNA sequences that occur naturally in ecoli, then do some enzymatic or chemical treatment, whatever that means, and reinsert into ecoli, then that's not covered by this in BSL1 labs. I'm thinking the same applies to chloroplast engineering, if you don't do electroporation or something. I talked with someone at the office and she agrees that this exemption exists and that I could do these types of projects, and that I could type up a detailed protocol and she would look at it. This is a really interesting vector to explore what we can do without a GMO license in Germany.