How cool would it be to program DNA at home to make gifs or play Tetris? Well, this device will soon let you do just that.
Cell-Free Technologies wants to take synthetic biology out of the lab and into our homes. This startup based in Cork, Ireland, takes the molecular machinery that cells use to read DNA and produce proteins out of the cell, making it safe to engineer biology outside the lab.
The startup is now getting ready to launch its first product, called Bixels. It consists of an 8 by 8 display where each pixel is a small test tube. The device can be programmed using DNA encoding for green fluorescent protein (GFP) — one of the most popular proteins in biology research thanks to its ability to glow. It can then be controlled through a smartphone app to make the GFP in each bio-pixel glow, and create any message, image, or GIF you cant think of, including recreating classic video games like Tetris.
As the first open-source biocomputer that can be safely used at home, Bixels could be an amazing educational tool to teach and learn how to engineer biology. This skill will certainly become essential soon, as synthetic biology takes over all sorts of industries from food and materials to data storage and computing.
Although so far the startup only offers GFP to play with, in the future Bixels could be used to produce all sorts of proteins in these micro-factories, such as fluorescent proteins of all colors or even smells. Being an open-source tool, I’m sure biohackers worldwide will soon come up with even cooler applications.
DIY biology is a big movement worldwide, and Cell-Free Technologies is not the only one aiming at making bioengineering accessible to everyone. A great example is Bento Bio, a startup in London that sells a portable kit to analyze DNA anywhere you are.
Cell-Free Technologies will be launching a Kickstarter campaign this Wednesday to start selling Bixels and fund its research. Although their first product can only produce proteins at small scale, this type of technology could be key to make bio-production easier, faster and cheaper by removing the need to culture cells and keeping just the essential molecular machinery.
But while they keep working to get there, we can have fun learning the basics of programming DNA. I’d love to see other video game classics like Pong recreated; what would you create with it?
Images via Cell-Free Technologies