Amino Wants to Bring Bioengineering to Your Workbench

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.


28 thoughts on “Amino Wants to Bring Bioengineering to Your Workbench

  1. The reason 3D printers, CNC machines, hobby microcontrollers, and more have taken off is because they are open source which drives down cost and makes them highly available and accessible. This will never go anywhere in the maker community if it is not the same….reading through the campaign, it does not appear to be so :/

      1. Nor do I see why being open source would make something more accessible. There’s plenty of obscure OS projects out there.

        Rather, it seems that all the abovementioned has “taken off” because it became cheap and easy to source stuff like bearings and stepper motors from China over the internet.

        1. It didn’t just “become” cheap and easy to source. For 3D printers, It started with industrial units costing tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars spreading through universities and businesses. As their usefulness and popularity grew, many of the people who used them wanted a 3d printer of their own. Some bought used printers and upgraded them, some decided to make their own.

          Projects like the reprap started to allow people to do that cheaply. By making the plans open source, upgrades could be made and the price could be brought down even more. Different models sprung up to test different iterations (such as deltas) and hacks were made along the to use cheaper parts. Even the motors from inkjet printers and hard drives could be used.

          Small companies sprang up selling cheaper hobbiest models derived from open sourced printers (auch as the reprap derived Makerbot).

          Hobbiest Microcontrollers and CNC mills,to a lesser extent, followed this same path. Open source drives innovation, while driving down cost. People didn’t just say “hey, look, bearings dropped price by 700%! I’ll combine them with a heating element, linear rails and an intricate and proprietary closed source software i can never really understand so i can make a $20 cellphone case with my name on it!”

          1. One guy I knew took a discarded automated tape library and used the motors and rails it used to build a CNC router table large enough for a 4×8′ sheet of plywood. This was back in 1989!

          2. Again, all I see in the RepRap case too is that the breakover point came when people found where they could source the necessary “vitamins” cheaply – not because it was open source.

            Making a cartesian robot – which is what a 3D printer like a Reprap fundamentally is – was never exactly difficult per se. Getting the linear rails, bearings, motors and motor controller boards etc. was the hard part, and those were not subject to the open source development effort – rather, the open source development went around how to avoid the “vitamins” that were not available. The leading aim of producing a 3D printable 3D printer came about directly from the problem of sourcing such vital components.

            I remember in the early days of the RepRap project, people tried to build things like Sarrus linkages and actuate them with fishing lines to avoid having to source the linear rods and leadscrews. Then linear rods and screws became available on the cheap, and the whole project switched back to what they were trying to avoid, because they weren’t getting anywhere without.

          3. Also, the 3D printing “revolution” came about on the commercial side because a whole bunch of 3D printing patents from the 80’s started expiring simultaneously. Again, nothing to do with the open-source movement, which was mostly re-inventing the wheel by trying to get around problems that the commercial versions simply didn’t have.

            Kinda like in the case of Xerox and photocopiers. Xerox was there first, a few licensed competitors existed, but photocopiers really took off after the Xerox patents expired, because everyone and their mother were holding on to copied and improved designs and were simply waiting for the moment.

    1. Making something open source does several things to bring down costs and increase accessibility.

      1) You decrease the cost of engineering required to make something. The initial designs are made and released to the community to vet and make better. People end up making tweaks and new prototypes on their own dime and re-releasing it to community. The end result is fewer engineering costs by a single company that have to be recoup’ed to raising the prices.

      2) The folks that buy these types of kits are ones that are going to want to tweak and expand them to make them better. Hackability is a HUGE feature the folks in the maker community look for when purchasing things today. Makers will very purposefully avoid products with proprietary technologies and actively seek those that they can tinker with and improve. I can almost guarantee that anyone reading this site has bought something they didn’t need or didn’t really care about because it would be fun to tinker with and improve.

      3) The cost of parts go down in response to people’s interest in buying vs making a product. One of the largest reasons the cost of a product is high is because the parts required to make it can only be bought wholesale which gives that manufacturer an artificial monopoly on that product because most makers don’t have the cash to buy 2000 units of a given part when they only need 1 or 2. When the community shows interest in making something, those parts become available at retail outlets, be it maker sites, eBay sellers, ect, for purchase one at a time. While this ends up raising the total parts cost per kit, it brings down the cost barrier required for someone to build just a single unit in a non production environment. Make something open source, and the retail outlets will try to jump ahead of the game to gain your patronage. Make it closed source, and folks end up buying crap at junkyards that doesn’t work 80% of the time to cobble together something that doesn’t work, they hate, and give up on.

      4) When folks are able to hack and tweak things easily, they are more likely to post tutorials and online content showing others what their project can do. We see this constantly with 3D printers, Raspberry Pi, and the Arduino platforms – things are easy to work with and change which ends up to massive online sharing and forum communities. The more information that is online, the more folks that will gravitate towards it.

      Granted, as you mention, not everything that goes open source is a success but it is never a bad thing. If something is not executed well to begin with or if it is a very remote niche product, it will stagnate and die away in an archive. It always will. But, if an OS product fills a need and it well kept by its creators, it explodes and becomes the defacto standard that is always improved and built upon as is the open source way.

      1. 1) most open-source documentation is so sub-par and incomplete because the people are more interested in making than documenting it, that it’s practically useless

        2) so?

        3) a few dozen hackers, or the “maker community” don’t affect the general market situation. The makers have always been too small in numbers compared to the amounts you need to leverage economies of scale.

        You’re basically making the same error in thinking that many Linux acolytes are: assuming that everyone is a software developer, or in this case a hardware hacker, when in reality the number of people who can and care to are too small to actually matter.

        And in reality, what the open-source community was/is doing is simply following the same footsteps as the commercial community did and patented 20-30 years ago, repeating the same engineering choices, if not downright duplicating them, because there are only so many sensible ways to do it and most of them have already been explored. The only thing holding things back are the patents.

  2. this looks interesting, but I really, really wouldn’t want to even begin trying to explain what I was doing to police.

    And before any of the usual suspects try telling me I’m paranoid or what ever, for those of us who had police knocking on the door with a search warrant because some idiot/nosy neighbor has gone all “henny penny” to some hotline over

    – the “chemical smell” coming from my place and/or the 20 litre drum of acetone I was seen taking inside, renting a canoe mold and building a couple does tend to get a tad “smelly’
    – the full spectrum grow lights over my aquariums
    – all the antennas on my roof
    – “he seems to have a lot of computers’

    in this day and age be cautious

    1. It’s all very simple in “the land of the free”:

      You’re working with chemicals? You must be one of them thar Al Kadas!
      Electronics? That’s probably a bomb!
      Programming? You must be a (negative connotation) hacker!
      Flying a model airplane? It’s a drone trying to do something illegal!
      Taking photographs in public? Terrorist!

    2. I can only imagine the disappointed officer when they found out your meth lab was a couple of curing canoes, your marijuana grow was just a fish tank and your computers…. where just computers.

      Unfortunately for your neighbor after all that disappointment they probably left without checking your antennas… which where part of the WEATHER DOMINATOR that you had been working on for Cobra and for the next three weeks you fine tuned it by creating a perfectly rectangular thunderstorm just over their property.

      Seriously tho it makes you wonder how many false positives they have to deal with :/

  3. When security advice is reduced to “if you see something, say something” with millions of untrained normals looking out, you end up with very amature security. Terrorists, terrorists everywhere…

  4. Apart from educators I don’t see who would buy this. $500 for a temperature controlled stir plate, an arduino cell counter, and some consumable bacterial cultures put in a laser cut plywood box. Then refills are $150-400 depending on which ‘dna app’ (what a terrible marketing term, quit dumbing down science) you get.
    From the looks of it most of the money for it has gone into collecting syntheses and buying cultures. So why would a biohacker not cut out the middleman? This is the E-Z-bake oven of genetic engineering, which isn’t a bad thing, but I don’t see this filling the deficiency for biohackers. You could equip a hobby lab to be more capable than this kit for around the same price. Because again the real cost is in the bacterial cultures, not the equipment. So until those come down biohacking won’t gain popularity.

      1. Chemical supply companies, the trouble is many places won’t sell to individuals, even harmless bacteria like Agrobacterium. There are handful of dedicated for bacterial cultures but with the same problem as before. This can sometimes be mitigated by joining a hackerspace since many of them are registered as educational non-profits. The other option is making friends with someone at the local university stuff like plankton and yeasts you can get loads of places even as an individual.

        Or as the Capt. Black suggested get some agar plates and isolate your own strains. Something you’ll need to do at some point as a biohacker. There are plenty of published methods for isolating bacteria, and some are specific for a given bacteria.

  5. That is a small scale money-making stunt. First of all the science behind it is very simple. It is just transforming DNA vector encoding fluorescent protein into the bacteria. Then growing it in the media. This can be replicated with really simple stuff. And frankly, we were doing more advanced stuff with kids in one of our education initiative I was briefly involved with. We always were repeating to them: “it is nothing too fancy, you can isolate DNA from onion with detergent and hot water; you can do DNA electrophoresis with just a soap box, wires and starch gel, etc.” sure there were some selected components that we needed to supply, but overall stuff needed for replicating experiments like that is very simple. Now, this stuff, the “amino” comes and I see it as an old-style chemistry set (that’s a good thing), but expensive (bad) and very limited in possibilities (very bad). What you will do after you get your bacterias to glow? Can you experiment further (edit the DNA)? No! You need to buy the “app”, so vector with some supportive stuff for the experiment with a very hefty price tag. This is exactly opposite how the science popularization should look like. It is like taking 555, putting it into a nice box, selling it for a hundred $ and with promise that the further “apps” will come that unlock exciting new modes of operation. It is deeply shameful to abuse human curiosity like this.

  6. How is this even educational! I’m all for authentic experiences in STEM but if you gave me and a group of makers $500 I guarantee we could come up with a much more useful but less pretty set up. 20 years ago I did PCR in waterbaths, 10 years ago I made my own competent cells using archaic but cheap and easy protocols and 5 years ago I did high throughput sequencing experiments on cancer cells, 2 years ago I left bench science. Even the best tools in the world don’t make bench work the right fit for everyone, but lots of modern tools make things faster and more reproducible. For small scale experiments not everything has to be expensive. The only things I think really are roadblocks are centrifuges and ultra low temp freezers.

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