DIY science labs take off

SUNNYVALE, Calif. (KGO) -- The Bay Area is home to some of leading biotechnology research in the country. But not all that research is being done in the laboratories of major corporations at universities. It turns out there is a growing interest in community labs open to anyone who wants to experiment.

Inside a Sunnyvale laboratory, a movement is growing.

It is called BioCurious, a nonprofit community laboratory set up for people to talk about science, and conduct experiments on their own.

Tito Jankowski was one of the cofounders of BioCurious.

Jankowski said, "At BioCurious we've really lowered the barrier for entry for trying out an idea, for trying to make a discovery in biotech."

The BioCurious lab opened in 2011 with $35,000 raised on social funding site Kickstarter. Since then, the lab has grown, thanks to local biotech companies who have donated more equipment.

Since its founding, membership has exploded to more than 500 members. Each biotech hacker pays a $100 a month to use the lab's equipment and resources.

"We started in a garage, and it was just this idea can we build a lab where we have members and we have entrepreneurs and students and artists, and teachers and can something amazing come out of that lab," said Jankowski.

The idea has caught on. There are now more than two dozen similar spaces around the world, including London, Paris and New York. Roughly half of these new community labs are in the United States.

Jankowski said, "The idea is, if you're a scientist and you get this really amazing idea, the normal process is that you have to raise a bunch of money. You have to patent your idea, then you have to negotiate with your university, your company to take that idea and continue to work with it."

Maria Chavez has a marketing background. She was leading a talk for visiting bio-hackers, when ABC7 News visited the lab.

"Instead of paying tens of thousands of dollars, you can now pay for the genes insertion, you can with the Crispr/CAS9 system for 60 bucks," she said.

Chavez has been with BioCurious since the beginning. She's just one of the diverse groups of people coming to experiment.

"We've had junior high school, high school students and you know all the way up to retirees get involved. People who are PhD's in the field people who have no experience at all say, I have an interest in this, and I want to learn," said Chavez.

Thom Fraleigh is from Canada. "I moved here not knowing anyone, so it was a great opportunity for me to come, make some friends - I like the lab work, and I've always got ideas I am chewing on in my head," Fraleigh said.

Los Gatos resident Arnie Wernick said, "People are doing absolutely fascinating stuff with this, so for me it's the sheer excitement of discovery if you will."

BioCurious says safety is a top priority in the lab. All experiments are overseen by a safety committee and the lab doesn't allow research that could be harmful to humans.

"The big surprise, said Jankowski, "is that yes we can create amazing things with very basic tools by bringing together people who are enthusiastic, bringing together amateurs, and bringing together experts."

Scientists who may someday come up with something that could change your life.

Written and produced by Ken Miguel.
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