Living Station

Week 26
  • Living Station Inspiration

Ellen Jorgensen – Biohacking, you can do it too

Ellen Jorgensen is at the leading edge of the do-it-yourself biotechnology movement, bringing scientific exploration and understanding to the public. We have personal computing — why not personal biotech? That’s the question biologist Ellen Jorgensen and her colleagues asked themselves before opening Genspace, a nonprofit DIY bio lab in Brooklyn devoted to citizen science, where amateurs can go and tinker with biotechnology. Far from being a sinister Frankenstein’s lab (as some imagined it), Genspace offers a long list of fun, creative and practical uses for DIY bio.

Why you should listen

In 2009, after many years of working as a molecular biologist in the biotech industry, together with TED Fellow Oliver Medvedik, Jorgensen founded Genspace, a nonprofit community laboratory dedicated to promoting citizen science and access to biotechnology. Despite criticism that bioresearch should be left to the experts, the Brooklyn-based lab continues to thrive, providing educational outreach, cultural events and a platform for science innovation at the grassroots level. At the lab, amateur and professional scientists conduct award-winning research on projects as diverse as identifying microbes that live in Earth’s atmosphere and (Jorgensen’s own pet project) DNA-barcoding plants, to distinguish between species that look alike but may not be closely related evolutionarily. Fast Company magazine named Genspace one of the world’s “Top 10 innovative companies in education.”

What others say

“Ellen Jorgensen is helping to democratize biology—making it less the purview of academics and Big Pharma and more an enterprise accessible to anyone who wants a hands-on scientific experience.” — Discover Magazine, October 2011