Genoblasts/Biomore names?

This was started in 2010 originally. It's gone through some changes and had a near death experience, and we're trying to restart it. We're talking about what we're doing and the history behind it and some updates about where we're going.

So we started in Spring 2010. It was formed basically to allow participation of DIYbiologists in the iGEM competition. I teach at a community college on biotech and biomanufacturing, so we arranged for people who wanted to participate in iGEM would enroll in the community college course, and the community college classes are pretty inexpensive. We had 10 or 15 people sign up for that.

We wanted to form a DIYbio thing in the Washington area near Baltimore. We had community college students, and diybio people, and Steve was one of the first DIY people. So we participated in this competition, we trained people in biosafety and biosecurity issues, gave them access to the laboratory at the community college, weekends, several nights a week, we had to have a technician or faculty member present. It was one of the criteria of the college. It worked out pretty well. We sent some people up to MIT to present the project.

After iGEM, things fell apart, but no physical meetups. So we tried to reboot for the 2011 competition. And that time, my administration at the college changed a bit, and they didn't want to have any affiliation with DIYbio. I really think that in the US, the community college system and the community laboratries, I think there's a perfect synergy for collaboration. For those of you who may have a community college in your area, you might want to engage with them or talk with them. The administration at my school was not receptive, unfortunately.

Ryan Ogel was the catalyst that started this whole Genoblast thing. He came up with the name Biomores. Baltimore's name is Bemore, and Genoblast came of it. Last summer we came with this idea of starting a community laboratory since the community college did not want to support it, and the space that we had organized or retained for the 2011 competition did not seem to be working out. We had some conversations with NSF about funding community laboratories, we did some looking around like BioCurious, trying to find places to put this at. Nothing really seemed to fit.

There was no movement until this past Spring where we started looking at funding streams, identifying space that we will sign the lease on in the next week or two, about 2700 sq ft. This will illustrate the idea that, it occurred to me along the way, is that space is the key, it's the catalyst for bringing people together. So we're going out on a limb to get the space, sign the short term lease, and kind of hoping that people will show up.

We have a few potential funding streams. Some is through a subcontract to the NSF, for working on a project for producing educational kits to give to community college people to do protein purification, cloning, things like that. So the organization I've been working with says that if we form this lab, they will give us a contract to produce things. So I think we can reach out to the DIYbio community to supply kits and reagents. It seems like some people have trouble acquiring these things.

We have 10 or 15 people that have committed some level of interest in the area. But we hope to sign the lease or open up in July or August. What Steve and I are trying to do is articulate what we want to see, who should it serve, students, teachers, hobbiests, entrepreneurs, what kind of projects.. I have some great ideas just from some projects here, some pretty fascinating projects, some financial aspects, to make sure that it will be around for a while.

Steve: I really appreciate the opportunities to learn and borrow and move some other community labs here. Just wanted to announce what we're thinking and try to get over some cold feet just by being here.

Where do we point people who might be in your area? I remember genoblast, I didn't correctly remember that it was genoblasters, but I didn't find anything about it. So, that's actually a next point, getting a website or some sort of internet presence. We don't have anything, the old link is dead.

Ellen: You guys are way ahead of most people, you have people that are already there and 100% qualified to teach with instruction, and you have igem under your built, what's funny to me is how ... you definitely have to, make it attractive to the community that you're trying to attract, whether schools or young people, potential biohobbiests or whatever.

That's a very good point, if Ryan Ogel, he was a master at publicising things, that's not a skill that I possess. I know how to work in a lab, but it's an essential skill to make this work.

Ellen: When we started, we had big fights about what the website should look like. Do we want someone, we partnered with CSHL, do we want someone from CSHL to see crazy photographs of someone stabbing someone with a pipettor, but if you're applying to a young biohacker, maybe you want some lightheartedness on your website. The content, the design, what should be shown first, what should be emphasized.

Community lab versus biohacker, and the implications and language, we want to buckle down or do we want to appeal to a young group?

Ellen: Where do you think the money is going to come from to keep it alive? It's kind of a weird situation to be in, but we're all sorta there.

Yeah, it's a delicate path to travel, you want to make sure you're presenting a responsible face, but you want to attract the young people.

The community college system in the US was started in the 1950s or 1960s. It kind of has a couple of different missions. The biggest issue is that it's open access. Anyone can enroll in classes. It's open to everybody. It's taken on workforce development missions, so they're oriented to developing lab technician skills, it also developed a transfer program so people can do their first 2 years to get basic courses out of the way, and go back to university to take more advanced classes. It's separate from university. There are more and more advanced tech programs, like fablabs, biotech programs, just from a workforce. What is a typical age going to community college?

I have had people from 18 years old to 65 years old. It's a hugely diverse audience, which is, I love that aspect. I love the open access aspect, I think the diversity is incredible. I come at this whole DIYbio community from an educational aspect, and I see that we can have a real impact on science education. That's my interest in it.

No, you don't have to apply to the university or something. You just enroll. I like this class, I like it, I want to sign up, you pay your money and it's relatively inexpensive.

Is it just you two guys? Yes, right now we're the driving force. I started talking with Steve pretty seriously about this, there were changes taking place at the college. It went into hibernation for a year there, there was interest from other people, but right now we're doing the hefty lifting. Ryan seems to still be alive, he had some personal issues to work out.