The maker culture is built around a do-it-yourself ethic. It’s not unusual to meet people teaching themselves carpentry, computer hacking or electrical engineering. But what about DIY biochemistry? or do-it-yourself genetic engineering? or do-it-yourself neuroscience?
Around the country a handful of DIY biology spaces and collectives have sprung up, including in Seattle.
At HiveBio, you can rent access to bench space in the lab for less than most people pay for their monthly Internet bill. It attracts amateur scientists, trained technicians who want to noodle outside of work, and serious hobbyists with ambitions that exceed what they can do in their garages.
Bergen McMurray’s journey to co-founding HiveBio began about a decade ago, when her then-5-year-old son was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and prescribed lithium.
“The idea of putting a 5-year-old on an anti-psychotic seemed like not a good idea to me,” she said.
That set McMurray, a photographer by trade, on a path toward getting educated about brain science, teaching herself well enough to get a job at the Allen Brain Institute.
She’d bring that audacity to her next project: creating a DIY biology space in Seattle.
All the projects at HiveBio are approved through a peer committee, which assesses it for safety and ethics. A project to create new e-cigarette flavor profiles, for example, was rejected.
Patrons can also contribute to a collective project, such as Citizen Salmon, which hopes to use DNA sequencing to determine which rivers store-bought salmon were born in.
And HiveBio offers inexpensive classes: "Build Your Own Dinosaur," for instance, a primer on bioinformatics, drew nearly two dozen people, ranging from elementary school students to working scientists.
McMurray hopes to get to a few of her own projects one of these days. Her research interests still center on mental health and neuroscience, informed by her own experiences and those of her son.
But for now, she says, ”the tasks of a CEO keep me pretty busy.”
She spoke with KPLU’s Gabriel Spitzer for the show Sound Effect.