CRISPR is the new darling of the genetics world, because it allows you to easily edit DNA. It is far more effective than previous techniques, being both precise and relatively easy to use. According to this IndieGoGo project, it is coming to your home lab soon. Genetic researchers love Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) because it allows you to very precisely edit a DNA strand. Using a protein called CAS9, CRISPR can find a very specific sequence in a DNA sequence and cut it. It occurs naturally in cells as part of the immune system: by finding and remembering parts of virus DNA, a cell can recognize and attack it when infected. For the genetics researcher, this allows them to insert new DNA sequences at specific points in the genes of any living cell.
As the maker movement has exploded in popularity in recent years, there has been a strong push to put industrial tools into the hands of amateur tinkerers and hackers. CNC mills, 3D Printers, and laser cutters were all extremely expensive machines that were far too costly for most people until makers demanded them and hackers found ways to make them affordable. But, aside from the home brewing scene, those advancements haven’t really touched on anything organic. Which is a deficiency that Amino, a desktop bioengineering system, is seeking to address.
Amino, created by [Julie Legault], is currently seeking crowd-funding via Indiegogo. Hackaday readers are more suspicious than most when it comes to crowd-funding campaigns, and with good reason. But, [Julie Legault] has some very impressive credentials that lend her a great deal of credibility. She has four degrees in the arts and sciences, including a Masters of Science at the MIT Media Lab.
It was for that degree at MIT that [Julie] started Amino as her thesis. Her plan is to bring the tools necessary for bioengineering to the masses – tools which are traditionally only available in research labs. Those tools are packaged into a small desktop-sized unit called Amino. Backers will receive this desktop system, along with the supplies for their first project. Those projects are predefined, but the tools are versatile enough to allow users to move on to their own projects in the future. [Julie] thinks that the future is in bioengineering, and that the best way to feed innovation is to make the necessary tools both affordable and accessible.
Potato batteries, lemon batteries, they’re all good fun for the classroom — but is there a way of making them better? [Marcel Varallo] decided to give it a shot — and we gotta admit, it’s a pretty cool idea!
Normally for these fruit and vegetable batteries you poke some leads into the battery, connect it to a clock, and bob’s your uncle. But what if we made them resemble batteries? [Marcel] took some copper pipe, cut it down to size, and poked it through a potato. Now he had a potato-cored, copper tube. Stick a zinc nail in the middle, and you’ve got yourself a battery cell! Or as [Marcel] likes to put it.. a Mar-Cell. Or the more scientific term.. the Solanum tuberosum based electron differencer V1.0.
Each potato cell produces approximately 0.8V, so if you throw eight in series, you’ll have the equivalent of a 6V battery, just maybe not the same mAh rating.
For another cool way to demonstrate electricity to youngsters, we love this lemon battery hack — it’s actually quite elegant.
Everyone’s seen the Diet Coke and Mentos “experiment” that ends in a brown eruption. But have you seen the Coke and Propane
experiment insanity that results in a rocket launch? As [Itay] pointed out when he sent us the tip, this doesn’t need to be lit. The simple act of turning the bottle upside down starts a powerful reaction without any ignition.
Of course it’s the how of this that tickles our brains, but let’s finish the setup. This starts with a bottle of Coke which is about 3/4 full. The head space is displaced by spraying propane into the bottle; propane is heavier than air. All that’s left is to turn the bottle upside down and pray it doesn’t smack anyone in the noggin as it takes off.
In trying to find an explanation for this phenomenon we came across a plausible answer on the Chemistry StackExchange. It points to the Mentos phenomenon combined with the temperature differential caused by the very cold propane. The answering user theorizes that tiny ice crystals form and when the bottle is turned upside down the cold propane and micro crystals rise through the warmer soda acting as a much more rapid catalyst than Mentos alone. Of course this is just a theory so please share your own ideas below.
We thought the folks who microwave stuff outside of a microwave enclosure had their fill of danger but this videos is also one of theirs. It should be no surprise that they also tried the experiment with an ignition source. That video is found after the break and should immediately convince you to never try any of this yourself.
Heat can be a hacker’s best friend. A little heat can help release a stubborn nut cleanly, and a lot of heat can melt a rusty bolt clean off. An oxy-acetylene torch is handy for these applications, but if you need a more portable setup, and you want enough heat to melt rocks, you might want to look into this field-expedient thermic lance.
Thermic lances have been around a long time in the demolition industry, where cutting steel quickly is a common chore. Commercial thermic lances are just a bundle of steel fuel rods which are set on fire while oxygen is blown down a consumable outer tube. The resulting flame can reach up to 4500°C with impressive results. In need of a similarly destructive device, [NightHawkInLight] came up with a super-simple lance – a small disposable tank of oxygen and regulator, a length of Tygon tubing, and a piece of 5/8″ steel brake line. No need for fuel rods in this design; the brake line provides both fuel and oxygen containment. As you can see in the video below, lighting the little lance without the usual oxy-acetylene torch is no problem – a “wick” of twisted steel wool is all that’s needed to get the torch going. The results are pretty impressive on both steel and rock.
You say you’re fresh out of brake line and still need some “don’t try this at home” action? No problem at all – just hit up the pantry for the materials needed for this tinfoil and spaghetti thermic lance.
Once upon a time, the aspiring nerdling’s gift of choice was the Gilbert chemistry set. Its tiny vials of reagents, rack of test tubes, and instruction book promised endless intellectual stimulation and the possibility of stink bombs on demand. Now a new genetic engineering lab-in-a-box Kickstarter, with all the tools and materials needed to create your own transgenic organisms, may help the young biohacker’s dreams come true.
The Kickstarter has been wildly successful. The initial goal was $1200AUD was met in a day, and currently stands at almost $6200AUD. Despite that success, color me skeptical on this one. Having done way more than my fair share of gene splicing, there seem to be a few critical gaps in this kit. For example, the list of materials for the full kit includes BL21 competent E. coli as the host strain. Those cells are designed to become porous to extracellular DNA when treated with calcium chloride and provided with a heat shock of 42°C. At a minimum I’d think they’d include a thermometer so you can control the heat shock process. Plenty of other steps also need fairly precise incubations, like the digestion and ligation steps needed to get your gene into the host. And exactly what technique you’d be using to harvest DNA from the animal, plant or fungal cells is unclear; the fact that most of the techniques for doing so require special techniques leads me to believe there’s a lot less here than meets the eye.
To be fair, I’ve been off the lab bench for the better part of two decades, and the state of the art has no doubt advanced in that time. There could very well be techniques I’m not familiar with that make the various steps needed to transform a bacterial culture with foreign DNA trivial. It could also be the case that the techniques I used in the lab were optimized for yield and for precise data, while the GlowGene kit provides the materials to get a “good enough” result. I hope so, because a kit like this could really expand the horizons of hackerdom and start getting the biohacking movement going.
Everyone loves a field trip. It’s always fun to visit a manufacturing plant to see how the big-boys make all the cool toys we love. But there are a few places you might not want to go exploring, like inside a nuclear reactor.
Well fear not, now you can spend as much time as you would like with these amazing cut-away of nuclear facilities from across the globe. You can thank University of New Mexico Libraries Exhibition for hosting these photos that have been published in “Nuclear Engineering International” magazine over the years. If you happen to have a pdf allergy, you can also browse most of them on flickr here.
And if you want to see more amazing cutaways, there is this photo pool full of some 1300 other cutaway images to look at. If you know of other amazing engineering photos sets, leave us a note in the comments.