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,