Team:Aachen/Practices/Community Labs

Exploring Community Labs

Watch our Video to get to know more about the activities of our Community Lab project
Thanks a lot to Wisam Zureik for recording and processing the video material!

Along our journey we were fortunate to meet a great number of interesting as well as dedicated people belonging to various fields, companies and societies. Out of all people we met, the "Makers" from several Hackerspaces who demonstrated their work at the MakerFaire in Hannover, fascinated us the most. Their creativity and commitment for DIY Biology inspired us to take a deeper look into the DIY community or, to be more precise, the Community Labs Scene.

Established in America - New to Europe

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Fascinated by DIY Hardware

Across the USA, you will find a wide spread of Community Labs. These open labs allow thousands of people to experience and get an understanding of biology. Furthermore, they provide an open platform that promotes discussions about life sciences. In contrast, there is only a tiny number of Community Labs in Europe, which are only scarcely connected.

We therefore started to contact and connect Community Labs in Europe. Due to their polarizing and educating character, the introduction of synthetic biology into the Community Lab Scene could have a huge impact on society. In cooperation with the Community Labs we met, we already reached a broad variety of open minded people of all ages. By helping and learning from each other we can bring the spirit of iGEM to everyone. Join us in exploring the exeptional world of Community Labs.

Click on the tiles below to navigate through the four main sections of our Community Lab experience.


First evaluation of the growing Community Lab Scene

Pre-discussion with the iGEM Team Darmstadt

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iGEM Team Darmstadt in Aachen

Beyond literature research, we wanted to get more inside information about Community Labs. Luckily, Fabian, a member of the iGEM Team Darmstadt is currently involved in the establishment of a BioHackerSpace!

On the 12th of June, Team Darmstadt was visiting us in Aachen. We, therefore, took the chance to have a general discusson about the potential and perception of the growing number of Communitly Labs in Germany and Europe. This discussion helped us to sharpen our knowledge and gave us some new aspects about this recent trend. It was particularly interesting, to get to know more about the intrinstic motivation of joining a BioHackerSpace and to hear the most prominent concerns that these labs have to face.

- The elaborated outcome of our discussion is shown at the collaborations section of our wiki. -


Discussions and Interviews at an interdisciplinary Symposium

In June, we were invited to a symposium called Synthetic Biology - Opportunities for interdisciplinary Research from Biology to Engineering. We gladly accepted and presented our project to a broad spectrum of scientists. The following discussions lead to a huge amount of feedback on our bioreactor as well as our biological project.

It's going to be very hard to keep people from getting access [...]. They're doing it in their garages now. We have to think about how we train people and how we talk about it.

Jay Keasling

>How to deal with increasing

availibility of DIY Biology?<

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Interviewing Jay Keasling during the symposium

In addition, we were extremely lucky to not only discuss our project, but also get an interview with the keynote speaker of this conference, Jay Keasling. Subsequently, we recorded several conversations with other speakers as well as guests of the symposium. On the one hand, these interviews touched some general questions about the progress and perception of synthetic biology. On the other hand, the main topic was the risks and benefits of community labs. As a result, we gathered a wide spectrum of opinions, which contributed to and influenced our human practices project.

To sum up, by covering a variety of aspects concerning Community Labs we had now aquired enough background knowledge to meet a real Community lab. Fortunately, we already made friends with some members of the "Technik Garage", the Community Lab we had the pleasure to meet at the MakerFaire.

Meeting the Technik Garage - Passionate Makers

Being curious, how the reality matches our expectations, we invited the “Technik Garage”, a German Community Lab to visit us in Aachen.

Our three main objectives were:

  1. Connect Community Labs by integrating them into a network of universities and companies
  2. Inform European Community Labs about iGEM and facilitate cooperations with iGEM teams
  3. Discuss biosafety standards and compare those of Community Labs to those of Universities

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The "Technik Garage" joins the Medlife network

To fulfill the first objective, we invited Dr. Jansen from the life sciences network MedLife. This Network connects around 35 biotechnological and medical companies, 12 research groups and 17 other companies like consultants, patent lawyers and software providers. It is designed to perceive the needs of their members and find solutions within or outside of the network. As a result of our discussion, Dr. Jansen agreed to add the Technik Garage to the Medlife network, which everybody appreciated as a win-win situation.

Subsequently, we discussed how synthetic biology can be used in Community Labs. Since the members of the Technik Garage regularly teach in different schools, as well as in their own lab, they were really interested in possible synbio school projects. As a consequence of sharing experiences in teaching biology, we revised the school project of the iGEM Team Aachen 2014 as well as a suitable protocol of a practical course for bachelor students. Using the provided material, they are able to reach hundreds of students and teachers within the next years and thereby spreading the spirit of synthetic biology.

If you ask the public about Community Labs, biosafety is one of the most prominent concerns. To evaluate biosafety aspects of Community Labs, we invited the iGEM Team of Paris Saclay to join our discussion via Skype. Together, we discussed different approaches to guarantee a high safety level of Communitly Labs. During this dialog, we focussed on the applicability of the two containment strategies of iGEM Paris Saclay, especially concerning the use in Community Labs.

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Schoolprojects, exchange of DIY hardware or simply an open discussion - "How to can we help each other?"
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"How to achieve high safety and security?" - Skyping with the iGEM Team of Paris Saclay


At the end of the day we

  • facilitated the joining of the "Technik Garage" into the Medlife network,
  • provided material for a teaching module about synthetic biology and
  • learned, how exemplarily the "Technik Garage" cares about biosafety.

To get a second impression, idealy of a lab with quite distinct features, we decided to visit the Waag society, a famous Dutch Community Lab that offers a biohack academy.

Meeting the Waag society - Infinite Possibilities

Regular open Wetlab

We visited the Waag Society at one of the regular open Wetlab days. Every Tuesday evening, interested guests are invited to have a look at their FabLab as well as their biological lab and are encouraged to participate in various open discussions addressing a wide spectrum of scientific topics.

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DIY hardware built by members of the Waag Society
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Residence of the Waag Society

Afterwards, Lucas Evers, who is leading Waag Society's Open Wetlab, gave us a tour through the castle tower, the Waag Society inhabits. Quite quickly, a diverse discussion group evolved, mainly consisting of students, artists and scientists. Some attendants were regular guests, others were visiting the Waag society for the first time.

The following discussions lasted several hours and covered projects of present as well as absent members of the Waag Society. We learned a lot about the multifarious prospects of DIY Biology and discovered the colorful world of bioart. The outlined bioart projects ranged from simply painting with different-colored microbes to experimentally expressing the behavior of a biological network as a theater play with actors as nodes of an computational algorithm. Using bioart as a starting point, the Waag Society also promotes controversial debates about the progress and opportunities of synthetic biology and biotechnology in general.


DIY Biology in your own kitchen

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Discussing Bioart and the prospects of DIY Biology

One central project of the Waag society is called the "BioHack Academy". The intention is to teach how to set up your own laboratory at home based on DIY hardware. In addition to private persons, also newly founded national and international Community Labs use this service. To make this possible and to maintain the platform provided by the Waag Society, they do not only receive membership fees and donations but also governmental funding.

To sum up, the Waag Society is multinationally connected and involved in a variety of different DIY Biology projects. When we mentioned that this year only one European Community Lab is participating in the iGEM Competition, they revealed to already consider a participation in 2016. We would really appreciate that and hope that they can act as role model to encourage more people in Europe to found a Community Lab.

- If you want to get to know more about our visit at the Waag Society, you fill find our respective blog entry here. -


As our journey through the multifaceted world of Community Labs comes to an end, we completed it by having a concluding skype call with the people who accompanied us at the start, the members of the iGEM Team Darmstadt.

After our last meeting, the iGEM Team Darmstadt had lead a panel discussion about the "Risks and chances of community labs" (please visit their wiki for further information). They shared their results and we shared our experiences in outlining how we helped Community Labs and how Community Labs helped us. We then came to a joint conclusion.

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Concluding discussion with iGEM Team Darmstadt

While they focussed on legal aspects, especially the detailed German laws concerning the creation of a lab at home, we layed our focus on infrastructural, educational and social aspects. The iGEM Team Darmstadt found out that the very strict laws in Germany make the establishment of a biohackerspace rather difficult. This matches the disparity in governmental support for the different Community Labs we have met. While the German Technik Garage is subjected to a lot of rules and restrictions, the Dutch Waag Society is even promoted by the government to teach about and enable DIY Biology at home.

Having a realistic risk assessment, most of the public concerns can be resolved easily. Especially the putative threat of bioterrorism is an emotional fear rather than a rational one. On the contrary, a spreading of Community Labs promotes “open science” and possesses an inherent beneficial potential. One of the great benefits would be to give the people the chance to make chemical and biological tests of water quality, food, medicine etc. This would largely increase the consumer protection. In addition, Community Labs are often very ambitious in their efforts to educate the public. They also contribute to society on other levels e.g. driving forward exeptional aspects as BioArt.

To conclude, we are convinced, that a further growing European Community Lab scene will have benefits for society and science. However, to promote the establishments of more Community Labs in Europe, we need to review the strict restrictions and increase connectivity through cross-linking networks like Medlife.

People involved

Prof. Frank Eiden Symposium - Setting up an iGEM Team in Recklinghausen for 2016
Dr. Julia Frunzke Symposium
Prof. Dr. Jay D. Keasling Symposium
Dr. Jan Marienhagen Symposium
Sigrid Jauris-Heipke Technik Garage
Oliver Kreimer Technik Garage
Astrid Rebischke Technik Garage
Dr. Stephan Schlote Technik Garage
Michelle Cacciapuoti Waag Society - Involved in project Biostricke
Lukas Evers Waag Society - Leader of oben Wetlab
Orion Maxted Waag Society - Computer Scientist and theater director
Björn Ramstedt Waag Society
Nina Sporanoa Waag Society - Photographer
Lucy Wiel Waag Society - PhD in Humanities
Benjamin iGEM Team Darmstadt
Carmen iGEM Team Darmstadt
Daniel iGEM Team Darmstadt
Fabian iGEM Team Darmstadt
Jonas iGEM Team Darmstadt
Kathrin iGEM Team Darmstadt
Thomas iGEM Team Darmstadt