Gene hunting device

March 2, 2012 — Leave a comment

The premise of Raphael Kim‘s project at Design Interactions‘ work in progress show –which closed a couple of days ago at the Royal College of Art– contained all the ingredients to intrigue me: The falling cost and increase in speed of DNA sequencing has given rise to two extreme scientific worlds: giant pharmaceutical companies who trawl the Arctic Ocean in search of potent genes that would profit them in a lucrative cancer market; and DIY biologists who try to beat the system.

The designer imagined a gene hunting device that biohackers (who usually cannot afford to ‘trawl’ the oceans) would create to collect gene samples present in the air.

The device would rely on rotifers, tiny animals capable of absorbing environmental DNA, that have been genetically programmed to start glowing as soon as a target gene is spotted in their environment. The rotifers sit inside a chamber attached to the gene hunting device, and wait for the targets to come near. This kind of “LED switch” can be obtained by fusing a commercially-available fluorescent gene with a part of rotifer’s own DNA (see image on the left).

A motor spins at high speed to draw the air onto the sampler while the outer mesh of the device protects the delicate samplers and filters out large, unwanted particles.

In-line with biohacking philosophy, these actions can be done, in theory, using an open-source data and hardware available to the public. Ever since the complete DNA sequence of human has been made public, genetic maps of other organisms have been published gradually, including those of rotifers, on free online database such as GenBank. Many other pieces of biohacking equipment can either be made at home or can be purchased on ebay.

Via Regine at we make money not art.

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