39Zero to Genetic Engineering Hero - Chapter 2 - Setting Up Your Genetic Engineering Hero Space
Chapter 2
Setting Up Your Genetic Engineering Hero Space
The world is entering a new, exciting era: a Biorevolu-
tion is happening! Until a few years ago, it was almost
impossible for someone without years of university or
professional training to do genetic engineering proj-
ects at home, in elementary and secondary school,
or community spaces. Learning the fundamentals
of genetic engineering, then applying them to do
world-changing projects was possible only to those at
universities, large companies, or in the government.
Thanks to advancements in technological and scien-
tic innovations in hardware, software, and wetware,
as well as in manufacturing, Minilabs, a type of labo-
ratory equipment made for everyone to use and learn
with, are revolutionizing this eld, making genetic
engineering accessible to those curious about the
power of the genome and programming biology.
In this chapter, we will look at what Minilabs are and
how to use them in your journey to becoming a safe
and responsible Genetic Engineering Hero. You will
not need a large space to make into your lab space,
nor will you need large and expensive equipment.
Instead, you will use compact, simple-to-use lab
equipment that can t on your desktop. If you wanted
to, you could even bring everything you need to a
friend’s house or a school.
We will start by talking about your workspace, the
type of environment you should have for your exper-
iments, and how to make sure you are following your
local rules and safety guidelines. We will then look at
the equipment and other materials you should have
on hand to keep your workspace operating smoothly
and safely.
If you are not completing the hands-on experiments
while reading this book, not a problem! You can have
a look through this chapter to learn about biosafety,
governmental regulations and considerations to take
when doing lab work.
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40 Zero to Genetic Engineering Hero - Chapter 2 - Setting Up Your Genetic Engineering Hero Space
Getting Started
Do I need government approval?
For the exercises included in this book, you will learn
by experimenting with microorganisms that are
non-pathogenic (not harmful). These organisms are
classied as Risk Group 1 (RG-1), also called Biosafety
Level 1 (BSL-1), precisely because they are not harm-
ful. Note that this chapter provides suggestions for
setting up an RG-1 ready space where you will be able
to do all of the experiments in this book. For more
advanced experiments outside this books scope,
such as those using organisms classied Risk Group
2 (RG-2) or higher, you would require a specialized lab
space with governmental approval no matter where
you are in the world.
However, because we will be learning with RG-1 organ-
isms like most university students and researchers,
you are likely not required by law to do your genetic
engineering learning in a government-approved
space. This does depend on where you live, as each
country has different regulations. For example:
In North America, you are free to do all the genetic
engineering we discuss in this book at home,
in schools, and makerspaces, without needing
governmental approval.
If you live in Asia and Africa, you are likely free to
learn and complete RG-1 genetic engineering in
the type of space we help you set up in this chapter.
However, you should check with your local govern-
ment to be sure.
If you live in Europe and South America, there is a
high chance that your government will want you to
learn genetic engineering only in spaces that they
approve and are aware of.
One of the advantages of the Minilabs used in the
Genetic Engneering Heros learning journey is that
they are easy to use and to move around. If you do
live in a country that requires genetic engineering to
be completed in a government-approved lab, you can
bring your Minilab there to do the learning exercises!
The rest of this chapter assumes that you can set up
space in your home, school or community/maker
space to complete the RG-1 level experiments. If you
cannot conduct the experiments at home because of
your countrys laws or other reasons, you can still read
on to learn what equipment you will need at a govern-
ment-approved community or school lab.
Contacting your local government Going Deeper 2-1
If you do not live in North America, you should search the internet to see if your country requires you to get
approval or a license for completing basic genetic engineering experiments. Search terms like “Biosafety
Level 1 experiment in [country]” or “Risk Group 1 (RG-1) experiment in [country]” should get you part way there,
along with information about the government organization that you can contact directly.
By using the contact link on the government organization website, you can then send this email:
Hello,
I am interested in learning the basics of genetic engineering. I am aware that in North America I do not need government
approval for risk group level 1 (RG-1) experiments. In [your country], am I free to complete RG-1 genetic engineering
experiments with standard non-pathogenic lab strains of E. coli at [home/classroom/makerspace]? Do I need to get
approval, a license, or have a certied space? If so, what is the procedure for doing this?
Thank you,
[Your name]
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41Zero to Genetic Engineering Hero - Chapter 2 - Setting Up Your Genetic Engineering Hero Space
What type of room should I set up
my genetic engineering space in?
You can set up your genetic engineering space in most
rooms.
However, avoid the kitchen and bathroom. You
should not set up your space in the kitchen because
it is good practice to always keep your experiments
separated from food storage, preparation, and eating.
You should avoid the bathroom because there are
often molds and other bacteria that love to grow in the
damp environment. While they are unlikely to harm
you, they will quickly show up to contaminate your
experiments. Similarly, you should avoid damp or
moldy rooms for the same reasons. Here are consid-
erations when choosing your space:
Temperature: When performing experiments, the
temperature of your space should be between 17˚C
and 25˚C. This range is approved for Minilab use
and is also important for handling samples.
Your
space should ideally be in this range at all times. If
your kits, and in process experiments are stored
at the temperatures recommeded in the manuals
(usually in a refrigerator), then the temperature of
your space can be out of the recommended range
when you are not using it. Once you are ready to
work, we recommend using a heater or air condi-
tioner to get your space within the ideal temperature
range. The ideal temperature to aim for is 21˚C.
Free of insects and rodents: Insects and rodents
are pests and vectors (transmitters) for microbes.
These could crawl into your samples or like their
taste, so don’t let your reagents (a substance or
mixture used in an experiment) and other supplies
get contaminated!
Good air quality: When doing most of the proj-
ects in this book, you will be growing bacteria on
nutrient-rich media (a solid, liquid or semi-solid
made to support the growth of microorganisms
or cells). Molds oating in the air love to feed on
nutrient-rich media. If you notice some strange
‘stuff’ growing in your petri dishes, then you should
denitely consider getting a small air purier with
a high-efciency particulate air (HEPA) lter. Don’t
worry, you will learn to distinguish strange “stuff
vs. your experiment in later chapters.
Working surface and floor should be sturdy
and easy to clean: Setting up on a hard, non-po-
rous surface made of metal, ceramics, or plastic
is ideal. Whether you’re working on a desk, in a
closet or on a countertop in a classroom, as long as
the surface
will not tip over and can be cleaned by
wiping, you
are good to go. Because we are work-
ing with Minilabs, you won’t need more than one
square meter of space (3 x 3 feet) to perform your
experiments. The oor surrounding your working
surface should also be solid and non-porous so
that it can be wiped and disinfected in the event of
a spill. Carpet is not ideal because you cannot wipe
it; if you need to set up in a carpeted space, you
should acquire a rubber or plastic oor mat to set
under your work area.
Cold storage (fridge/freezer): As you progress
through this book, you will be using kits that
should be refrigerated. While it is OK to put the
new kits in your refrigerator as long as the package
isn’t opened, we still recommend putting all your
science materials in a sealed plastic container that
you can keep in the refrigerator. Some experiment
Figure 2-1. Set up your Genetic Engineering Hero headquarters in a safe, mold-free and insect-free environment.
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42 Zero to Genetic Engineering Hero - Chapter 2 - Setting Up Your Genetic Engineering Hero Space
kits will have components that will need to be kept
frozen and you can use a standard freezer for this.
While you are in the middle of your experiments or
once they are completed, it is not recommended to
put petri dishes containing grown or engineered
cells directly in your fridge. While the cells you use
in these experiments are not pathogenic, it is still
recommended that you follow the golden rule of
separating food from experiments! A solution is
to use a large airtight Tupperware-type container
that can seal your experiments when you store
them in the fridge to prevent them from coming
into contact with food. Always advise your family or
roommates if you have science in the fridge!
Once you progress towards becoming a Genetic
Engineering Hero, it is recommended that you
acquire dedicated a mini-fridge, a thoroughly
cleaned used fridge, or a refrigerated cooler to keep
your experimental samples cool for longer storage.
Consider this as soon as you can.
Pets or small children: Just as you want to main-
tain a pest-free space, you need to prevent pets
and children from touching or eating your experi-
ments! To help you, the Minilabs have built-in locks
for locking in samples while incubating. However,
you may need a locked room or cabinet to store the
rest of your experimental samples and to keep curi-
ous pets or children from interferring.
Setting up your space should be straightforward. We
have completed experiments in many different envi-
ronments and owe this to the Minilab; we’ve set it up in
state-of-the-art university teaching labs at the Massa-
chusetts Institute of Technology, in budget hotel rooms,
and even in the car on longer road-trips. Consider the
simple guidelines above, and get going!
Equipment and materials for your
Genetic Engineering Hero space
Setting up your space is almost as simple as setting
up a new computer or home ofce! In Figure 2-2, you
can see a timeline of the equipment and materials
you’ll need for each chapter if you are doing all of the
experiments in this book. Let’s start by looking at the
equipment that you’ll need to complete the full jour-
ney: a Minilab, a microwave, microcentrifuge and a
small scale.
1. The DNA Playground Minilab
Incubating, cooling, heatshocking and transform-
ing samples (Chapter 3-7)
The DNA Playground is about the size of a toaster
oven. It will enable you to incubate and engineer cells.
This versatile Minilab replaces the need for a large
petri dish incubator, an ice bucket with a constant
supply of crushed ice, a hot water bath, and a ther-
mometer. This Minilab is used in chapters three
through seven and will be essential for all of the exer-
cises in this book!
The DNA Playground is available in two sizes: Home
(Small) and Classroom (Large). There are two differ-
ences between them:
The incubator capacity: The small unit can incu-
bate two of the 6cm petri dishes at a time. The large
unit can incubate eight of the 6cm petri dishes or
two large 10cm petri dishes at once. In the kits
recommended in this book, you will only be using
6cm petri dishes. If you will be working with a part-
ner and will each be doing your own experiments,
then you may want to consider the Classroom
(Large) size DNA Playground since you can have
up to four experiments running simultaneously!
Figure 2-3. The DNA Playground Minilab and an experiment
kit set up on a home desk covered in epoxy for easy cleaning.
Ch 1 Ch 2 Ch 3
Ch 3
Ch 3
Ch 3
Ch 3
Ch 4 Ch 5
Ch 5
Ch 5
Ch 6 Ch 7 Ch 8
Ch 1 Ch 2 Ch 3 Ch 4 Ch 5 Ch 6 Ch 7 Ch 8
Microcentrifuge
MiniLab: DNA Playground
Small Scale (optional)
Microwave
Cleaning & Safety Supplies
Experiment Kits (’wetware’)
Figure 2-2. Timeline of needed equipment, supplies & kits.
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43Zero to Genetic Engineering Hero - Chapter 2 - Setting Up Your Genetic Engineering Hero Space
When you do more experiments in the future, you
may encounter the larger petri dish sizes. Amino
Labs provides small petri dishes as they save mate-
rials and cost for you, and are readily available.
The large DNA Playground comes with a built-in
LED (light) for use when completing one of the
Chapter 7 experiments, the Light-it kit. If you have
the small DNA Playground, you can get the Light-it
LED and a power pack for it when you purchase the
Light-it Kit. Note that for Chapter 7, you have three
experiment kits to choose from so you can also
decide not to do the Light-it Kit.
Cost: $489-539 at Amino Labs https://amino.bio.
Available individually or as part of the Zero to Genetic
Engineering Hero Pack Ch. 1-4. Use code GEH2BOOK5 for
5% off.
2. The Microcentrifuge
Extracting cultured products (Chapter 5-6)
A microcentrifuge is a compact version of a centri-
fuge that is about the size of a wafe iron. You will use
this centrifuge when you begin breaking open cells
to extract out the products that you engineered the
cells to create. The microcentrifuge is required for
Chapter 5 and 6.
Your microcentrifuge must meet two requirement for
it to work with Amino Labs kits:
Spin at 13,000 x g (~13,000 rpm) or higher
Hold 1.5 mL centrifuge tubes
Cost: $500-$800.
Get a new microcentrifuge
at Amino
Labs https://amino.bio
. Available on its own or as part
of the Zero to Genetic Engineering Hero Pack Ch .5-7 or
look for a used one on eBay, Amazon, etc. You can use
discount code GEH2BOOK5 to get 5% off at Amino Labs.
3. The Microwave
Creating Agar petri dishes (Chapter 3-7)
A microwave will be used to heat sterile water to a boil.
This is a better tool for your lab than a kettle since
you will be able to keep your sterile water in its sterile
bottle in the microwave, preventing any contamina-
tion. Because no cells or microorganisms will ever be
inside, you can use your existing kitchen microwave
or get a new/used one specically for your space. The
water you will heat up will be more sterile than your
microwave and tap water would be! It would help if you
spent a little time cleaning the microwave before using
it not to contaminate your experiments. Be careful
when you heat water as it will be very hot to the touch!
The size and power of the microwave are exible, and
you will nd the right settings to boil water as you go.
The microwave is required for Chapter 3 and beyond.
Cost: Variable, likely less than $100. Look in your local
second hand stores, or on used goods websites.
Figure 2-4. DNA Playground Minilab in Home size (Small) in
yellow (top) and Classroom size (Large) in red (bottom).
Figure 2-5. The Amino Labs microcentrifuge
Figure 2-6. A Microwave Oven to boil your sterile water.
Copyright Consumers Union of US., Inc. 2015 All Rights Reserved.
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