The next stop in our tour of (bio)hackerspaces leads us actually to another kind of place… Back in the USA, we are now with Charles Fracchia at the MIT Medialab, Boston, Massachusetts. Formerly deeply involved in DIYBio, Charles shares with us his current vision of this movement with more hindsight.
Could you introduce yourself?
I am an IBM PhD Fellow MIT Medialab in Joe Jacobson’s Molecular Machines group and Church lab at the Wyss Institute at Harvard Medical School. I obtained my Bachelor at Imperial College London where I worked on a potassium ion channel based synthetic biology reporter system. I continued my thesis work at IBM Research where I have been encouraging research in bioelectronic interfaces ever since. I worked as an early intern at Ginkgo Bioworks where I developed many of the assembly pipelines still used today.
I am also a founder of BioBright, a company building open source hardware and software tools that hopes to transform the way biomedical research is carried out and enable curious people to ask interesting questions easily. I represented Boston for the Hello Tomorrow challenge (European 100k) and am a founding member of the first DIYBio lab in Somerville, MA. I have spoken about my work at many different venues including the White House, MIT Sloan, NASA Ames, IBM Research and Airbus.
My current academic interests lie at the intersection of biological engineering and electronics. A space we have been calling Digital Biology. At the heart of Digital Biology lies the notion of BioElectronic Interfaces. Defining and building said interfaces is the leitmotiv of my research. From scalable DNA origami systems all the way to smart, context-enhancing systems for research and accessible human physiological monitors.
What does biohacking represent for you?
I used to be a lot more active in the DIYBio community in the past, when access to laboratories was limited during my undergraduate degree in Biology. I got involved in DIYBio as a way to learn more about biological engineering and increase my abilities to do labwork. Since it’s inception until now, DIYBio has had a major positive impact on education and lowering the barrier to entry for interested people to get started with biological engineering and synthetic biology. Arguably, Humanity faces two major challenges: exploring the universe and exploring our nature. Unfortunately, biological research is very hard to get into because of the knowledge and training requirements and monetary cost of experimentation. I see DIYBio having a crucial role in lowering those requirements, ultimately ensuring that more students and interested individuals can help solve a key problem we face as a society.
What do you expect from a biohackerspace?
I am in a very privileged situation where I have access to some of the best labs and resources in the world to carry out my research. In that way, I don’t expect anything from DIYBio labs for my personal research. However, I do expect them to play a crucial role in educating people and providing a safe space for people to prototype with biology. I also expect DIYBio labs to push the envelope on affordability of biological equipment and systems. So to summarize, I expect DIYBio labs to generate more individuals interested in the field that maybe one day I will collaborate with or mentor.
>> Picture: Dailylaurel (CC)