Scientific research used to be limited to the halls of academia, but a growing movement is breaking down those walls, showing that anyone can take a crack at being a scientist.
Tucked behind a house just a few minutes away from Davis Square in Somerville is a pretty standard two-story garage. But inside this building is a Biosafety Level 1 laboratory called Boston Open Science Lab, or BosLab. Angela Kaczmarczyk, president of BosLab, said she and her peers opened this lab with the same goal — to democratize science.
“Our mission is to enable biotechnology to basically allow anybody to learn and do biotechnology outside of academia and industry in a safe manner,” Kaczmarczyk said.
Kaczmarczyck has a Ph.D. in molecular biology and is one of a growing chorus of voices who want to make doing science more accessible to the general public.
“I think it's really important because they can put in their perspectives, or they may have specific needs that people in academia and industry ... aren't aware of,” she said.
Community science labs continue to pop up across the U.S. and the world — some with lofty ambitions. Counter Culture Labs in Oakland, Calif., created an open source initiative to make affordable generic insulin. The DIY bio movement is also making its way into homes as gene editing kits are widely available online. Of course, a little guidance always helps — most DIY science labs offer classes.
Timothy Stiles, a computer scientist who works in bioinformatics, joined BosLab so he could learn how to extract DNA. Now, he teaches the class on it.
“We show people how to take little pieces of DNA and insert them into e.coli,” Stiles said. “And the next day we take the plates out and it's fluorescent green, which lets you know that you added a gene to it. That's when the 'I can do this, too' happens, and that's sort of where a lot of people have that 'a ha' moment."
Since BosLab is a Biosafety Level 1 lab, all the materials they use are safe — they work mainly with yeast and e.coli, and every member has to go through safety training. There’s also an internal review board that vets every project proposal. Still, the FBI keeps in touch with BosLab — as they’ve been doing with the DIY bio movement in general. Angela Kaczmarczyk welcomes this relationship because it’s all part of BosLab’s ethos to keep science research transparent.
“The whole goal is to promote scientific literacy so that people understand how the technology works,” Kaczmarczyk said. “It's community-driven. And you know, I think that what I would really love to see in the next five to 10 years, is to see solutions to problems in society today that come out of these spaces.”