JV Chamary

Focus-Science and Technology - - Gene Club -

ITHIN A TINY room iin a north Lon­don base­ment, Ilya Le­van­tis opens a tup­per­ware con­tain­ing what looks like a left­over take­away. “Fash­ion de­sign­ers th­ese days get in­ter­ested in this stuff,” he says, proudly show­ing off a rub­bery pan­cake in a brown liq­uid.

The “stuff” is kom­bucha, which is used to make fer­mented tea. It’s pro­duced by a colony of mi­crobes, the most im­por­tant be­ing Glu­conace­to­bac­ter, which se­cretes strands of cel­lu­lose. Un­like ma­te­rial made by plants, a kom­bucha pan­cake is al­most pure cel­lu­lose. When thin, it can be dried for pa­per, and used in wound dress­ings and high- end speaker cones. When thick, it’s tough enough for cloth­ing. “Some peo­ple call it ve­gan leather,” says Le­van­tis, the Lon­don Hackspace – a build­ing lo­cated, aptly enough, in Hack­ney. Some of the lab’s equip­ment was built us­ing tools from the nearby elec­tron­ics, wood­work and met­al­work work­shops, while other kit was do­nated by uni­ver­si­ties. Bio­hackspace

many of us think ‘hacker’ a who breaks things ech­ni­cally, that’s a ‘cracker’), the word m ore prop­erly ap­plies to peo­ple who make or r re­pur­pose things, es­pe­cially those who tin nker with tech­nol­ogy. ‘ Bio­hack­ers’ play wi ith biotech­nol­ogy and form part of the Do o- It- Your­self bi­ol­ogy move­ment.

DIY bio groups are run by vol­un­teers, and mem­bers usu­ally pay a monthly fee to cover the costs of fa­cil­i­ties and sup­plies for a shared lab, which pro­vides af­ford­able ac­cess to any­one curious about bi­ol­ogy. In 2010, there were only a hand­ful of bio­hack­ing labs; ac­cord­ing to diybio. org,

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