Community Biotechnology

MadLab is the future of science, and I’m prepared to bet several limbs on it

–Simon Werrett, University College London

MadLab has taken an active role in the worldwide biohacking and community biotechnology movement, starting in 2011 when we kickstarted the first DIYbio group in the UK, and organised the first ever DIYbio conference to take place in Europe.

As with many in the DIYbio movement, it was the appeal of Synthetic Biology – and the possibility of a near future in which genetic machinery and DNA is as easy to work with as microchips and code – which initially drew us in, but since then our attention has wandered: to bioart & biodesign, microbiology (fermentation in particular), digital laboratory practices, automation, DIY lab hardware, the ethics of “designing life”.

It turns out that genetic engineering is still a long way off having its “Raspberry Pi moment”, but community biotechnology – and bio-hackerspaces in particular – are becoming increasingly relevant: more software and data-driven, frequently DIY-built and automated; populated by scientific and academic talent, refugees of the “postdocalypse”; falling DNA synthesis and sequencing costs, and a lower barrier to entry thanks to easier-to-use tools and sophisticated cloud biotechnology platforms.

From dedicated labs, research budgets and lots of manual labour, to “hackers with laptops” in a few short years. What next?


Workshop & Lab (Coming Summer 2015)
A fully-featured digital makers workshop & community biotechnology laboratory.

Glow in the Dark E.Coli @ Manchester Science Festival (2014)
A family favourite! Genetically modifying gut bacteria (Escherichia Coli) to glow in the dark, a quick and fun afternoon workshop.

BioStrike (2014)
Presented as part of the BioStrike DIY food lab at FutureEverything 2014 (“Tools for unknown futures”). In conjunction with Waag Open Wetlab, BiologiGaragen Copenhagen, and the Centre for Genomic Gastronomy.

“Mystery Meat” Workshop (2014)
Extracting and analysing DNA from local butcher-bought meat, using DIY hardware and techniques. Developed with assistance from Thomas Landrain (La Paillasse) and Noah Most.

Labeasy (2013)
A popup DIY biotechnology lab and series of ten workshops, in conjunction with The Arts Catalyst. Winner of the 2014 KiiCS Art-Science Innovation Award.

Local Bio-economies (2013)
A NESTA “Hot Topics” event: Synbiota gene hacking in the afternoon, a symposium in the evening. Plus, live fiction writing!

DIYbio Manchester (2011)
The project that started it all! A 12-month foray into DIY biology and biotechnology, in conjunction with MMU and funded by The Wellcome Trust.