1. To set up frugal processes in a single bio-foundry for local enzyme production.
The different parts of our project can be executed in a sequential fashion that can be made into a pipeline. We have tried to tackle each step in enzyme production and purification, frugalising and simplifying each step so that people can get started even with minimum expertise and resources.
Our grand vision is to democratize biotechnology. While we narrowed down on producing enzymes in a frugal bio-foundry, our ambitions go far and beyond for the implementation of our project.We looked at all types of constraints that limit people around the world to solve problems using synthetic biology. While some parts of the world have quick access to synthesising DNA and getting strains of bacteria, other parts of the world may suffer from its inaccessibility. In some parts of the world, the raw material to make hardware designs would be significantly lower due to currency evaluation as well as the local market production and in other parts, the access to education and exposure to synthetic biology training would be high.
We found that creating a frugal bio-foundry can be an automated, design-focused venture to do a DBTL cycle for any experiment but what would be even better is if we have a distributed network of frugal bio-foundaries that can share resources, ideas and even people! This way, we could build on the strengths of each bio-foundry and complement the inaccessibility to certain things in certain parts of the world. Alternatively, we can also have “mini-foundries”, bio-foundaries that do not have all the necessities a complete bio-foundry has, but manages to have some parts of it, and specialise in a particular task. For example, someone from a mini-foundry that specialises in growing bacterial cultures can grow them and distribute them to a neighbouring mini-foundry that has only hardware capacities for extraction and purification.
Each of these frugal bio-foundries would be a node in a distributed network of frugal bio-foundaries - forming a “bio-net”, that is accessible to anyone interested to use synthetic biology tools. Everything created in this distributed network would be easy to share between nodes. Also, every biological construct will be open-source for anyone outside the network to also benefit. So, our proposed end-users are everyone who wants to do cool stuff with synthetic biology.
1. Public benefit ventures
- Community lab
Community labs function with a cost constrain due to the limited funding that they usually are able to receive. It becomes crucial for them to save money and spend on the minimum viable option. Setting up our frugal pipeline in such a set-up would be most beneficial for any kinds of experiments that scientists and non-scientists alike using the lab would want to do.
Also, connecting multiple community labs, and making each community lab a node in the distributed bio-foundry will prove all the benefits we have listed above. Additionally, it can also help in networking and carrying out experiments even if you cannot stay in the same part of the world for extended periods of time.
- Academic set-up
While academicians do not seem like obvious end users, but we see that incorporating our pipeline in an already established academic set-up where there is expertise available to train the new generation on synthetic biology techniques, our pipeline can help in hands-on experience through which students can learn to do enzyme extraction and purification while affording to make many more mistakes because the cost of each step has been frugalised. For example, one can do nanopore sequencing multiple times to learn the technique while the alternative, Sanger sequencing is a cumbersome and costly technique.
When such pipelines are established, academic environments can also open their doors for the public to learn these synthetic biology techniques as a means for public education.
2. Private benefit ventures
- Open Garage Door model
One of our plans is to set up a “playbook” for labs/companies from different communities to follow while setting up our pipeline. We have an elaborate plan under the Entrepreneurship page.
We particularly see that private companies can follow our Open Garage door model to set up their internal frugal bio-foundry for-profits. Countries with lower bio-economies, one way to bring about progress would be to initially found many such private companies which can offer services at a lower cost. This can pave way to a higher bio-economy which can more likely sustain the public laboratory/ biofroundry set-up.
- Commercial Labs
Commercial labs can function as wetware incubators. They can also offer contract services for different organisations in need of enzymes. While the big players may cost a ton of money, these frugal wetware incubators can do it at a fraction of the cost. Thriving community labs are good candidates for being wetware incubators.
In an ideal world, it would be very simple to bring our implementation to life, but the real world is messy and we foresee that there will be the following problems.
Any open-source initiative suffers from shortage of funds to bring ambitious projects to fruition. We need to tackle ways so that we can sustain a bio-foundry and the distributed network that it will be a part of. In our entrepreneurship page [link] , we have tried to tackle some parts of this problem. We also have inspirations from other open-source projects like Linux that empowered the rapid growth of software development. Linux project began by Linus Torvalds as a passion project, where a lot of other like minded people found the need and contributed to it until it. They collaborated with software companies that needed open-source alternatives for an operating system.
We see that a similar strategy can work for us:
People interested in expanding on our project as a “passion project” and could devote their time without expecting monetary compensation.
Collaborations with biotechnological companies and institutions who are in need of certain enzymes to be frugally manufactured.
- Setting up processes inside a bio-foundry
For someone starting out new to biotechnology, the process of setting up this workflow can be a daunting task. The technical skills to physically manifest these can be a barrier. We think we can bridge this by having proper documentation of protocols and easy to follow guidelines for beginners while doing each step of our process. (follow up on this in the proof of concept).
After setting up a frugal bio-foundry we foresee that maintaining a community that frequently uses the bio-foundry can be problematic too. This can be due to the lack of awareness of the existence of such set-ups. We think that this can be tackled by effective communication of our ideas in layman terms by involving those who are not scientists, but those who have experience in marketing and science communication.
- Resource constraints
Sometimes, the resources available in your locality will be too costly than the one that we have proposed or has proper documentation to implement a frugal alternative for your required functioanlity. In the early stage of setting up a distributed network, asking another biofoundry to do it for you might also not be cost efficient. The only way around the problem might be is to look for local recyclable alternatives. Second hand usages of hardware discarded off due to small flaws can be tinkered with to make it useable. They might also prove to be more cost effective option than building new frugal hardware from scratch.