Cathal Garvey – indie biotech

As you might be aware, I proposed a panel for SXSW [] on DIYbio. One person who I think epitomizes DIYbio is Cathal Garvey. He’s builds instruments (the Dremelfuge), gives numerous talks (here at Ignite Dublin), gives workshops, compiled a practical guide, and even applied for a license from the Irish EPA. You can’t go wrong learning from his adventures in Indie Biotech.

He is one of the panelists I’ve chosen, and he’s agreed to come (if he can make it). I asked him a few questions about DIYbio and the panel. Here are his replies:

What drives you to do what you do?
“The most amazing work is done by the passionate, and it’s hard to be passionate about science when you have to fit into the straight-jacket of a profit-driven or grant-dependent organisation. Some of the biggest problems out there are both economically unviable to solve and are fundamentally boring, meaning that it’s hard for either traditional category of science to address them. I want to have the power to address the things that matter to me, and to see others do the same.”

Why do you think we should tell the SXSW crowd about the future and impact DIYbio?
“I’d like people to realise that biotech is going to become commonplace someday, just like mechanics, electronics, and computer programming. That this means two things: Firstly, that countries that are burdening biotech with scaremonger-fed legal systems or overly protective “Intellectual Property” are hurting their present and future in this wave of innovation. Secondly, that now’s the time for people to press for openness and accessibility in this technology, by taking part or supporting the work of DIYers who aim to kick-start Open Source biology.”

What would you be doing if you weren’t being a bio tinkerer?
“I’d probably still be pursuing a “traditional” career path in academic science, hoping that in ten or twenty years I’d have my own lab in which to tinker and students to do it for me. I’m too impatient now that I realise there are other, faster ways to choose what I research.”

What’s the one thing someone can do before they come to our panel to prepare?
“Read about biotech, life science and genetics on wikipedia. As with any engineering or science panel, I imagine we’ll bury ourselves in jargon sometimes and have to dig our way back out. If people know what DNA is, how it leads to proteins in cells, and what that means for how biotechnology works, they’ll be ready for the more abstract discussion on the implications and potential of biotechnology.”

Anything else you think might be relevant to help someone decide about the applicability of our panel at SXSW?
“Any tech conference needs to prioritise present and future technology concerns in a good balance. At present, silicon is king and programming for online social webapps is the big trend, but “Big Social” is already feeding into and morphing into the next-big-thing; massively distributed empowerment. Biotechnology, as a tech platform, comes pre-loaded with distribution and personal empowerment; I predict a dovetail between what we’re seeing happen right now and where biotech is going to enter the public awareness. SXSW would be doing itself a big favour by presenting DIYbio and Open Source Biotech this year, while it’s all coming together so quickly.”

What do you think of Cathal? Let us know!