Team:UT Dallas/Outreach


Outreach: "Clone" Depot

Around the beginning of summer, agents from the FBI contacted us. No, it wasn't because they were worried about us. They were concerned about the potential reality of domestic terrorists creating biological weapons. I will reiterate, we were NOT the domestic terrorists they were worried about. Regardless, the FBI agents posed two questions to our IGEM team. Number one: is the field of systems and synthetic biology advanced to the point that a super virus or bacteria could be created? In short, yes. Number two: can a student or otherwise semi-knowledgeable individual successfully build such a biological weapon from the confines of their home? We found this second question to be quite interesting. So interesting, in fact, that we began to scheme ways to create our own lab equipment from household or otherwise easily obtainable items.

The first instrument we looked into reproducing was the micropipette.

The micropipette is so essential to our lab work that virtually nothing can be accomplished without it. Our basic construct utilized a syringe, a screw, and a nut. The screw combined with the nut was utilized to raise and lower the syringe plunger by incremental amounts. Therefore, performing a quarter turn on the screw would cause only a few micro liters to be drawn up or released.

Aside from pipettes, we also looked into alternatives for gel electrophoresis.

Could agarose be replaced by gelatin? Would twelve volts (i.e. a car battery) work (slowly, of course) instead of one-hundred twenty volts? In addition, we came up with ways that a centrifuge could be built -- by modifying a Dremel, for example.

All in all, we had a great time exploring the question of a "garage lab". However, this side project wasn't just about having fun. We were addressing a very serious issue within systems and synthetic biology. How easily could a malicious individual create bio-terroristic threats against the citizens of our country? Although much of the equipment that we use in labs is reproducible, as we discovered, access to enzymes and chemicals is a significant blockade to home labs. Unfortunately, the threat of a bio-terrorist is not outside the realm of possibility. Therefore, to ensure the safety and security of others, availability to the biological and chemical components that make our work possible should be regulated in an efficient and effective manner.