Low tech biotech

Submitted by Carlyn Zwarenstein on April 25, 2014 - 22:52

Citizen science and the DIY (do-it-yourself) movement combine in the quest to create simple, low-cost, assembled-from-basic-materials equipment capable of carrying out sophisticated diagnostic tests or other applications. Open access data can be an important component of making such equipment cost effective. 

For example, this synthetic biology project funded on Kickstarter last year to engineer glowing plants as an alternate light source uses the open data of the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) databases.

On the other hand, while doctors in various medical departments and citizen tinkerers alike may initiate DIY projects--often with the intention of creating equipment that is not just low-cost to make, but low-cost to acquire and operate for medicine in poor and rural regions around the world--funding for development is often a concern.

The makers of this simple PCR machine for the low-cost detection of malaria have struggled to match their interest in altruistic and DIY making with both actual need and a market that will fund further refinement of their prototype.

Do-it-yourself making in the world of medicine is becoming a strange mix of Wild West-ish patenting, shilling and inventing combined with the not-for-profit, open-to-all ethos of open access. 

Many more examples and interesting takes on the phenomenon to follow.

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