6 cool biohacker projects from 2014

I wanted to highlight a sample of the amazing biohacker projects all around the planet. Art projects are among my favorite this year, really pushing new boundaries!

1. Real Vegan Cheese

Real Vegan Cheese gives a whole new meaning to the word “experiment”. I love that this breaks the boundaries of normal “synthetic biology”. It’s a group of amateur and professional biologists working together across 2 communitylabs, crowdfunding research money, budgeting funds, and winning at iGEM. Lots of firsts there. All around engineering yeast to make cow’s milk, with the goal of creating cheesy vegan cheese with no animals involved.

Too many synthetic biology projects sound like boring algebra problems: “If we lower the price of X using BIOTECH to X/100, we will revolutionize Y and make $Z billion”. Real Vegan Cheese breaks the mold and pushes science in some breathtaking new directions! (BioCurious and Counter Culture Labs, Bay Area California. Winner, iGEM 2014 – Best Community Lab Project)

Screenshot 2015-01-05 16.26.18


2. Grow Your Ink

Grow your own custom ink colors in a biotech lab. Everyone’s is different. I think it would be awesome to write with ink created by celebrities…like “Barak Obama’s Ink” or “Taylor Swift’s Ink”. Get into a biohacker lab and make your own! (La Paillasse, Paris)

Beautiful photo gallery on Flickr


3. DNA Barcoding Plants in Alaska

Ellen Jorgenson and friends from Genspace cram into this tiny plane to go out to the middle-of-somewhere Alaska — to get DNA samples of native plants. Back in the lab in sunny Brooklyn, local high school students learn to analyze the DNA samples to discover and identify what species the plants are. It was all documented on experiment.com, check out their open lab notebook here.

Barcode Alaska


4. Method Quarterly

Do you use terms like “open science”, “ivory tower”, and “democratize biotechnology”? Then you’ve got to check out Method Quarterly. It’s a new magazine, founded by a bunch of cool people like Christina Agapakis. This interview with a scientist named Evelyn Fox Keller from issue #1 is fascinating.

We put up boundaries within science — separating people, disciplines, and careers. We also put up boundaries between science and everything else. How do we create and enforce these boundaries? What separates science from art? From pseudoscience? From technology? How do we cross boundaries? How do we break them down?

Method Quarterly

5. Car Pools – growing algae fuel in 43,000 pools in LA

“Car Pools is a series of simulations that examine the potential ecological effects associated with the public release of genetically altered algae for biofuel production. The project draws on current open-pond algae production methods to imagine a future infrastructure of fuel producing pools for the city of Los Angeles, a metropolis built for cars, home to more than 43,000 swimming pools.”

I love that this group owned the word “simulation”. It’s not an experiment, and that’s part of why it’s awesome. I hope 2015 is the year of simulation. Winner, iGEM 2014 – Best Art & Design Project (Art Center College of Design, Pasadena)


6. HUM – the vibrator, redesigned by physicists

“The vibrator, redesigned by physicists.  Sleek, minimal, intuitive. This is your gal. This is your little dude. Arduino hackable. An orgasm graph for every woman. The future of sex research. This is HUM”

Awesome article about HUM in Cosmo

Get it on Indiegogo (ends January 16th, 2015)

HUM Vibrator

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Synthetic Biology Phobia-Phobia

The biggest fear of synthetic biologists is that the public fears synthetic biology?

Read “The Construction of Imaginaries of the Public as a Threat to Synthetic Biology

Wonderful work from Dr. Claire Marris. Thanks to Christina Agapakis for the link. I’ve included a couple of excerpts here from the paper that resonated with me. “Science outreach” rubs me the wrong way, it comes across to me as shoving “science” down “the public’s” throat. Dr. Marris has some excellent insights about the future of synthetic biology.

Figure 1., An eternally surprising result from surveys on public attitudes to science: more scientific information does not simplistically lead to more positive attitudes. Source: Hart Research Associates

The expectation is that the ‘informed view’ will be more positive.

Thus, organisations that campaign against current developments in syn-thetic biology are dismissed as anti-capitalists who oppose any profit-makingendeavour.
Public concerns are to be surveyed (or more accurately surveilled) and their concerns are to be overcome rather than respected and responded to.

Both committed and uncommitted publics are perceived to be irrationally fearful of GM techniques per se, and this is assumed to be based on an a preoccupation with, and misunderstanding of, ‘naturalness’ (e.g. they do not realize that we have been manipulating nature since ancient times) and a lack of knowledge of the molecular basis of genetics (e.g. they do not even know that ordinary tomatoes contain genes).

Though the paper might sound negative to some, I found Dr. Marris’s article inspirational. Maybe 2015 will be end of “science outreach” when we come up with something more meaningful and powerful. Now what do we do with these insights?

Marketing Plan: Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring

Just a thought my mom had while drinking coffee. Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring is credited with inspiring the creation of the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). Heres the thought:

Rachel Carson wrote about how DDT was destroying Bald Eagle eggs, the symbol of American independence.

Rachel showed that because of DDT, Bald Eagles were laying eggs with brittle fragile shells and dying off. That powerful image carried her idea around the country.

If she had written about just bees or salamanders instead, would her message have been lost?


Want to go to NYC for the Science x Kickstarter Hackathon?

Hooray, Kickstarter is getting into science. They’re hosting a big science hackathon in NYC. Sponsorships are available for scientists and hackers who aren’t in NYC. awesome!

From Aurora at Kickstarter:

A weekend of collaboration and creativity — scientists, artists, designers, writers, and makers working together to bring their ideas to life

February 28 & March 1, 2015 10am-10pm ITP, NYU Tisch School of the Arts

Why are we doing this?

We want to help.
This event will help unite scientists with designers, artists, writers and makers; folks that are passionate about bringing new ideas to life. The Kickstarter Outreach team will also offer help with conveying your compelling idea in a way that appeals to a general audience.
Support is out there.
The science community on Kickstarter is comprised of young makers, experienced enthusiasts, and many more. They’re eager to support and offer feedback, you just need to get your story out there!
Science is for everyone.
Everyone has a stake in exploring the world around them. Science provides the explanations for what we discover. We can work together across disciplines to help bring those ideas to life!

Check it out on Eventbrite

Sponsorships are available for scientists and hackers who aren’t in NYC!

We stood in the same spot, 42 years apart

My mom and I stood at the same spot in Yosemite, 42 years apart!

At home in Hawai’i, my mom was showing me a photo took in 1972 when she camped in Yosemite National Park. Half Dome is easy to see.

I wanted to figure out where she took the picture from. I triangulated where it was using Google Maps. I was surprised to find that it was Columbia Rock, where I visited with Nanna from Copenhagen last month! Nanna sent me her pictures and it’s an exact match for the spot where we ate snacks for an hour. Cropped to make it the same framing.



Posted in: JMT |

New Album: Too Skinny for Tattoos

I recorded 2 new rock songs with my dad last week at Fineline Studios in Hawai’i. He wrote the song and sang, I played guitar. The album is still in the works. Here’s a sample song, “Too Skinny For Tattoos”.


Here’s our last album
Cowboy Van Gogh
Step Outside the Universe
Label: Ground Up Records

Listen FREE on Spotify: “Blue Love” by Cowboy Van Gogh
Check out “Step Outside the Universe” on iTunes

We’re Published In: Maker Pro – Are You BioCurious?

Maker Pro: Essays on Making a Living as a Maker

Maker Pro: Essays on Making a Living as a Maker

Maker Pro is out!  Eri Gentry and I wrote a chapter for Maker Pro called “Are You BioCurious?”, sharing perspectives on BioCurious, OpenPCR, and life. Other awesome contributors like bunnie Huang, Mitch Altman, and others. Also proud of my dad Theodore Jankowski for painting an illustration for the book http://jankowskiandbuck.com. And thank you to my friends who guided and reviewed my writing!

The Maker Pro book is written by 17 Makers, and you can order the Maker Pro book at Amazon now.

Are You BioCurious?

Written by Eri Gentry and Tito Jankowski

Biotech doesn’t have to be limited to labs anymore. There’s cool hardware and low cost hackerspaces springing up and being used by beginners and scientists. With this influx comes new ideas and new applications.

Read the rest of this entry

Excerpt from New Book “Maker Pro”: Measuring the Success of BioCurious

Maker Pro: Essays on Making a Living as a Maker

Maker Pro: Essays on Making a Living as a Maker

Community biotech labs are heating up. But it’s a mistake to measure the success of a community lab by the number of startup companies created or the number of scientific papers published. I think there’s a much greater opportunity than simply re-creating a new university lab/startup incubator model. Today, the biggest opportunity for BioCurious is pushing beyond the technical and into social elements of science. Can we change who makes scientific discoveries? Can we expand the global conversations around new discoveries to include more groups? Can we increase the number of people who have set foot in a biotech lab?

Excerpt from “Are You BioCurious?”, Maker Pro, O’Reilly Media 2014
By Eri Gentry and Tito Jankowski

Read the Full Chapter from Maker Pro for Free Here On My Website

I borrow vocabulary from startup incubators and university labs to explain the success of BioCurious. For example, “We’ve had several funded startups start out of the lab!” resonates with a lot of people in Silicon Valley.

However, to push new frontiers, we must reinvent how we measure the success of biotech hackerspaces. Biotech hackerspaces don’t need to be startup incubators like YCombinator, or a research machines like Stanford University. I think there are bigger challenges that biotech hackerspaces are best suited for.

What might they be? To start, here’s “success metrics” for a few different industries. Read the rest of this entry