Among my many ideas I have lying around is some form of institute to support the DIYbio community. This is different from the meet-ups happening in places like Somerville, San Francisco, Houston, and New York. And this is a bit more than what DIYbio.org is providing (sharing of ideas within the community).
This idea adds some pieces that seem to me to be missing (please correct me, of course). I’ve been turning over these thoughts for some time, and since nothing has really materialized (remember, I have a high idea-execution quotient), here are my thoughts.
In my notes, I call it the Molecularist Academy (why? check out the URL above). But the name is inconsequential, what’s important is the mission – Funding, Education, and Outreach.
The mission supports seeding of money – to jump-start activities; legitimacy – practitioner education and safety (certification?); and advocacy – promotion and community education to communicate what DIYbio is about and what folks are up to.
There are a few interesting funding models out there, such as Kickstarter, Biocurious, and Awesome Foundation. My thought is to create a traditional funding system backed by large sponsors and donors to provide DIYbio-specific grants for exploration, seeding ideas, and to support activities. This funding system would have someone actually reaching out to sources such as biotech industry associations (around here, the Mass Biotech Council), leading biotech businesses (around here, Biogen, Genzyme, NEB, among others), the NIH and NSF, institutes like the Wyss and Venter Institutes, universities, and community organizations.
I do think there’s a bit of a local focus needed, as I feel the biggest contributions DIYbio can make is actually in the local communities the different groups have sprung up in.
And by creating a formalized fundraising and granting structure, the hope is to build an endowment that lasts as the DIYbio community grows. (and I've wondered about alternate ways to fund and legitimize practitioners, in an HHMI-sort of way – more in another post)
Which leads to the next mission focus.
I carry a lot of baggage from my institutional science days, so I am always stuck between letting a thousand flowers bloom and hoping folks don't kill themselves or others while futzing with biotech tools.
The education part of the Academy would set up courses and seminars to teach techniques, science culture, and, most importantly, safety certification. The Academy would be vetted by existing safety organizations and provide legitimacy to the practitioners. And, there would be a structure of re-certification and continuing credits sort of education.
Safety is a big deal and my brief foray into how to communicate it made me realize that it’s much more than just putting up a bunch of pages of regulations and recommendations. Folks like the FBI and the local regulatory bodies likely want more structure.
As part of this Education mission, I’ve also been trying to gauge the need for a patent clearing system, to make sure DIYbiologists are working with the appropriate product licenses, which suggests the Academy should work with tools providers to create special DIYbio tinkering licenses.
And that leads to the third and final part of the mission.
This is public outreach, outside the community.
I’ve spent less time thinking of this part as the folks from DIYbio.org already seem to be doing a good job of reaching out to the public and news groups to explain what DIYbio is and can do, and reaching out to agencies who should consider the implications of DIYbio.
And I know there’s been talk of extending this outreach to courses and seminars to engage schools, local communities, and influencers to make DIYbio part of public thinking.
Outreach should also include working with regulatory and policy agencies to take DIYbio into consideration when revising or creating regulations and policies. DIYbio.org has been very good here too.
And, finally, as part of outreach, would we need to have an Asilomar-type event, bringing stakeholders together to hash out the future of Natural Philosophy in the 21st Century, particularly as it pertains to Biology and non-institutional biologists?
There it is
So there’s my Academy, supporting funding, education, and outreach to promote DIYbio. Of course, this could be built upon the existing DIYbio.org structure. I just wanted to get these ideas out there.
What do you think?
Image from tiseb
As an aside, I was looking more into Biocurious and see they are thinking the same things, though still with a crowd-funded model.