By Henry de Belly
Counter Culture Labs (CCL) is a biohacker community based in Oakland, CA, composed of scientists (citizen and otherwise), biohackers, and thinkers. Last year, they successfully participated in the iGEM competition and were awarded the prize for the ‘Best Community Labs Project’ for their Real Vegan Cheese. Their work aimed to create real cheese from baker’s yeast, involving no animals in the process
Following last December’s post, ‘When Biohackers arrive at iGEM’, I interviewed Patrik D’haeseleer, one of CCL’s founding members about their current crowdfunding campaign.
Current Lab Space used by the CCL, one of their future project is to build a biosafety level2 room.
Although only recently created, the CCL team has already completed several projects, ranging from environmental to synthetic biology. They’ve also held over 300 free open meetups and classes, spreading science to the general public.
The Real Vegan Cheese Team, winner of the ‘Best Community Labs Project’ prize at iGEM 2014; see their wiki for more details.
Recently, they launched a $30,000 crowdfunding campaign that promotes the lab’s mission to democratize science through a full-fledged community laboratory space in the city’s Temescal District. See their video here.
As they explained in their video, they need everyon’es help to do more “Real Science.” To accomplish their goal, according to the CCL Kickstarter page,
“[they] now want to renovate the lab so that more advanced science can happen in a safe and responsible way” – from their kickatarter page
In recent years, many biohacker spaces and community labs have been created around the world, often using crowdfunding to support their actions. For example, La Paillasse conducted a successful kick-starter campaign last summer to upgrade their laboratory, and BioCurious who also lunched their campaign few years ago. Engagement with these efforts revealed a real interest on the part of the general public for biotechnology.
La Pailasse is a French Community Lab that successfully conducted a similar crowdfunding campaign last summer here.
The main goal of the CCL funding campaign is to allow the facility to upgrade its lab space, as Patrik D’haeseleer explained; they want to improve the safety and capacity of the laboratory with the main goals of increasing outreach actions and sponsoring younger, would-be scientists and biotinkerers who aren’t able to afford the monthly membership fee that supports the operation of the lab. The money will also be used to fund this year iGEM team.
“We want this to be a place where people can be playful about discovery and exploration” says CCL member Kathy Buehmann. “Science doesn’t have to be only for the experts. The more people are involved, the better.”
Charts of how the money from the crowdfunding campaign will be used, from their kicskstarter page
Patrik D’haeseleer insists that “Biology is the technology of the 21st century” and that it will change our lives in the coming years.
Biotechnology is often perceived as scary. It is poorly understood by the general public, in part because it’s accessible to only few individuals. CCL and the others community labs aims to give the public access to biotechnology, filling the gap between scientist and general public.
‘There is a need for democratization of Science’ D’haeseleer said.
Giving this access to a lab space and biotechnology tools can help the general public to have a better understanding of the dangers and limitations but also of their broad range of possibilities in science.
Similar to what happened with the computer and electronics revolution in the 70’s, a democratization of biotechnology could lead to a wave of new startup and available technologies.
‘Silicon Valley was born out of garage workshops and hobby clubs, the precursor to today’s hackerspaces. And much of tomorrow’s innovation will be born out of the garage labs of today.’ – from the kicskstarter page
If you are interested in helping community labs and scientific outreach, you have until the 11th of June to support them (and get some awesome rewards, such as Eppendorf star earrings).
Regardless of the success of their crowdfunding campaign, one thing is sure: community labs will play a big role in tomorrow’s biotechnology. More and more citizen scientists are becoming interested in biotech, often just for fun or creative expression (such as bioart), but also to create and develop new ideas.
If you are interested in meeting them, check their Meetup group website
All views expressed in this post belong to the author, and are not necessarily those of PLOS.