44 Zero to Genetic Engineering Hero - Chapter 2 - Setting Up Your Genetic Engineering Hero Space
3. A small scale
Weight your samples for centrifuging (Chapter 5-7)
To complete your lab, you need to get a small scale
that has two or more decimal places when measuring
in grams (0.00 g). Your scale only needs to be able to
measure up to 300g. You will use this scale for weigh-
ing samples before you centrifuge them to ensure they
are balanced. It is required for Chapter 5 and beyond.
Cost: Variable, but typically less than $50. Have a look
online - Amazon and eBay are good places to start.
That’s all the equipment you will need in your lab
space to become a Genetic Engineering Hero. Isn’t it
amazing that you can do university-level experiments
with so little equipment?!
But make sure to continue reading to learn about the
safety equipment and items you will need. A Genetic
Engineering Hero always practices safe science.
Materials and Supplies
In addition to equipment, you will need a few more items
so that you can complete the experiments professionally
and safely. These will also ensure that you are keep-
ing your space running smoothly and are minimizing
1. What should you wear? Your Safety
A lab coat or apron: A lab coat or plastic (wipeable)
apron will prevent contaminants on your clothes
from falling into your lab space and experiments.
Figure 2-8. A lab coat and shoes that fully cover your feet are
standard lab apparel.
Figure 2-7. A small scale is used to balance samples before
Do I need a microscope? Going Deeper 2-2
In the world of genetic engineering, synthetic biology, and molecular biology, you work at the molecular
level (nano or pico levels) rather than the micro-level. The molecular level is about 1000x smaller than what
can be seen by a standard microscope. While you do use bacteria, genetic engineers generally do not need
to look at the cells. Genetic engineering really is nanotechnology.
Microscopes are sometimes, but not very often, used by genetic engineers. Most of the time, analyzing
and understanding the chemistry in the cells is the most important factor, and chemistry isn’t easily seen
using a standard microscope. Instead, other analytical tools are used to understand what is happening at
the scale of atoms and molecules.
There are “microscopes” that can be used to analyze cells at the level of molecules, but even though they are
called microscopes, they are actually “nanoscopes” that are capable of seeing details 1000-100,000x times
smaller than the typical microscope. These devices include scanning electron microscopes, transmission
electron microscopes, atomic force microscopes, and scanning electrochemical microscopes.
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45Zero to Genetic Engineering Hero - Chapter 2 - Setting Up Your Genetic Engineering Hero Space
Contaminants can be your hair, your pets fur, pollen,
dust, food... all things you do not want getting into
your work! Your lab coat will also prevent you from
spilling your experiments on your clothes. Some of
the cleaning agents you will use in your workspace
are chlorinated and, by wearing a lab coat, you will
also protect your clothes from getting bleached. You
can nd a lab coat online (e.g., Amazon, eBay, Amino
Labs) for $30 or less. You can also use an artist smock
or similar. If you get one of the Zero to Genetic Engineer-
ing Hero Pack Ch. 1-4 at Amino Labs, you can add a mini
safety set with a reusable apron you can easily clean.
Shoes: During your experiments, you should wear
shoes that fully cover and protect your feet. No open
toes or socks! You want to cover your feet just in case
you spill hot or caustic materials - they will protect
your feet. If house rules about wearing shoes in the
house or community space exist, sturdy and fitted
leather or rubber-type slippers can do.
Safety glasses / Eye protection: Eye protection like
safety glasses can be worn throughout the experi-
ments but are not always necessary since the quantity
of the reagents is minimal, and the samples are safe.
If you are not familiar with working in a lab, you may
not be used to being aware of what you are doing with
your hands... Do you scratch your face, rub your eyes,
push hair off your forehead? Wearing safety glasses
can help you prevent these unconscious gestures
during experiments. Safety glasses should be worn
when handling bleach in the inactivation step and in
Chapter 5 and 6 for the lter-sterilization.
Cleaning and Other Supplies
Lab gloves (A): It is recommended that lab gloves be
worn at all times. Gloves will protect you from your
experiment and your experiment from you. Nitrile
or latex gloves are widely used and can be found at
your local pharmacy or purchased online. A standard
box of 100 gloves will be enough to complete all of the
experiments in this book.
Paper towel (B): A roll of paper towels is great to have
nearby in your space. Use paper towels to wipe up any
spills. To clean up a spill, directly spray the spill with
a generous amount of chlorinated cleanser and place
a paper towel on top. Leave it there for 30 minutes,
then toss it out.
Concentrated liquid bleach (C): Bleach is used to
“inactivate” and kill bioengineered organisms after
you are done with them and clean up your space and
manage any spills.
Permanent markers (D): Labeling your samples,
tubes, and plates is an integral part of doing genetic
engineering projects. Labelling is important for safety
and for organizing your experiments.
pray Cleaner (E): A chlorinated cleaning agent
should be used as your primary cleaner to spray onto
a spill. Lysol or Fantastik spray with bleach are good
examples. Any spray cleaner that includes sodium
hypochlorite in the ingredients list is good. Be careful,
since these can “bleach” clothing and other materials.
Alcohol Cleaner (F): Isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alco-
hol) or ethanol (sometimes called rubbing compound)
can be useful to have around in either spray or bottle
form. It is common to spray your hands with either
~70% ethanol or ~70% isopropyl alcohol after putting
gloves on to provide a little more sterility before start-
ing your experiments. Either of these can also be used
to further sterilize your workspace after using chlori-
nated bleach spray cleaner.
Discard container (G): A small pail is excellent for
placing inactivation bags into (“inactivation bags”
are included in many of the kits you’ll use through-
out this book). Any experimental waste (items that
have touched DNA, cells or reagents) will go into an
inactivation bag. This waste includes gloves that have
touched bacteria, used paper towels, tubes, inocula-
tion loops, and more. In Figure 2-7, an inactivation bag
has already been set into the discard container.
Garbage pail (H): You will also need a 10-20 litre plas-
tic garbage pail for general garbage. Make sure the
pail does not have any hole so it can hold liquid and
line it with a “heavy duty” plastic/garbage bag. Any kit
Figure 2-9. Your workspace should be stocked with some
simple and useful items.
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46 Zero to Genetic Engineering Hero - Chapter 2 - Setting Up Your Genetic Engineering Hero Space
packaging can go into this waste container, as well as
gloves that have not been contaminated with bacte-
In the very rare instance where a lot of material
gets contaminated from an experiment, you can also
use this garbage pail to dispose of your experiment
waste. You will then be able to add bleach and water
to the pail, inactivating the samples inside, because
it is waterproof and lined with a sturdy garbage bag.
Experiment kits/wetware
For the rest of this book, the hands-on experiments
require specic Experiment (‘wetware’) kits created
by Amino Labs. You can get these kits as-needed by
visiting https://amino.bio or get them all as part of one
of the Zero to Genetic Engineering Hero bundles.
The Zero to Genetic Engineering Hero packs come in
different options:
By book chapters: Chapters 1 to 4 and Chapters 5
to 7 include the kits needed to complete the spec-
ied set of chapters. The Ch. 1 to 4 pack includes
the option to add a DNA playground of your choice
to the bundle, as well as the book (which you prob-
ably won’t need if you are reading this already!)
The Ch. 5 to 7 pack includes the option to add the
microcentrifuge and the Light-it LED add-on if you
don’t have the DNA Playground Large which has
the built-it LED.
By size variants - Home or Classroom pack. This is
because Amino Labs experiment kits are available
in two sizes. In individual size, you get one exper-
iment ‘tryper kit, and in Classroom size you will
get 4 or 8 ‘tries’ of the experiment per kit. The kits
from Ch. 1 to 4 Classroom size come in 8 tries, and
the more advanced kits of Ch. 5 to 7 Classroom size
come in 4 tries.
You may be wondering - a Chapter 1 kit? But I’ve
already done that! If youve already completed the
DNA extraction from strawberry, you can buy the kits
for the other chapters separately or get the bundle
and do it again. After all, practice makes perfect!
Below, and at the beginning of each chapter, you will
nd a list of the kits you will need.
Chapter 1: DNA Extraction Kit (or home materials)
Chapter 2: No kit!
Chapter 3: the Canvas
to make living paintings
Chapter 4: the Engineer-it
to engineer bacteria
Chapter 5: the Plate Extract-it
Chapter 6: the Smell-it
and/or the Blue-it
Chapter 7: the Light-it
and/or the Heat-it Kit
and/or the Induce-it Kit.
Safety and Best Practices
There are some basic safety considerations and best
practices that you should use when doing any biolog-
ical experimentation. These guidelines will help to
ensure that your workspace is a safe environment for
you and for those around you. They will also set you
on track to work or study in a university or company
Some considerations were mentioned earlier in
the Materials and Supplies section, and this section
expands on this topic.
Do not eat or drink near your experiments or in
your lab space. Keep your experiment at least 10
feet from food, drinks, etc. Under no circumstances
should you consume any of the ingredients. Protect
your experiments so that they do not get eaten by pets,
pests, siblings or anyone/anything else!
Figure 2-10. Experiment kits from Amino Labs are a fun
and easy way to have every ‘ingredient’ you need to learn
biotechnology hands-on!
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47Zero to Genetic Engineering Hero - Chapter 2 - Setting Up Your Genetic Engineering Hero Space
Immunocompromised persons: While compo-
nents of BSL-1/RG-1 experiments like the ones
for this book are non-pathogenic, some individu-
als, such as those who are immunocompromised,
can be affected by large numbers of bacteria and
should wear extra protection, such as long sleeves
and a face mask, to ensure no contact with any
experiment component. If you or someone around
you has a compromised immune system, you or
the immunocompromised person should consult
a physician about the activities before starting any
Wash your hands before and after manipulating
your experiment, the ingredients, or the hardware.
Wear gloves even when cleaning your space or
handling the consumables (petri plates, loops,
etc). This will protect you from your experiment,
and your experiment from you. Any latex, nitrile,
or general-purpose gloves you find at the phar-
macy will do. Also, after you put on your gloves, be
aware of what you touch. Do not touch your face or
scratch itches with your gloved ngers as this will
transfer microbes from your body to your hands!
Clean up your station, spills and work surface
before and after use. Use an alcohol solution (e.g.
70% rubbing alcohol), a chlorinated spray cleaner,
or a 10% solution of chlorinated bleach generously
applied to a paper towel and rub onto any contam-
inated surfaces. You can also use chlorinated
wipes to do this. But be careful! These cleaners can
discolor your clothing. Even if you have not had a
spill, wipe down your workspace table with a 70%
rubbing alcohol solution before or after your work
but never use rubbing alcohol on your minilabs. To
clean minilabs, refer to their instruction manuals.
Discard used consumables properly. During your
experiments, you will have ingredients, consum-
ables, and microorganisms that you need to
dispose of safely. A simple inactivation procedure
is described for each of the hands-on exercises.
This includes putting any used items inside the
inactivation bag (which has been placed within
your discard container). Then add bleach and
water to the inactivation bag. After 24 hours, all
organisms will be killed, and DNA will be dena-
tured (broken down and made non-functional). It
is safe at that time to put the liquid in the toilet and
dispose of the solid materials in the garbage.
Tie up your hair. If you have long hair, be sure to tie
it up in your lab space. Hair can get into an experi-
ment and contaminate it, while also contaminating
your hair with the experiment components.
Print a few Safety and Clean-up checklist and keep them
by your workspace to use before and after your exper-
iments as you become familiar with the procedures.
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) also has
some excellent materials that expand on this topic:
Biosafety 101 course: A free online biosafety course
is offered by PHAC. It covers the biosafety basics
that you should consider, especially when working
in a professional lab. You will be redirected to this
resource by visiting https://amino.bio/biosafety.
What-is-Biosafety? Poster: A biosafety poster that
describes what biosafety is all about. It will teach and
remind you that your eyes, mouth, cuts and nose are
your main vulnerabilities to the world around you.
Download and print this poster to put it up on your
Genetic Engineering Hero lab wall. You can nd this
resource at https://amino.bio/whatisbiosafety.
Biosafety-in-Action Poster: A biosafety poster that
you can print and put on the wall of your space. This
poster describes actions you should emulate while
at your genetic engineering workspace. You can nd
this resource at https://amino.bio/biosafetyinaction.
Biosecurity Poster: By completing the exercises in
this book, you will gain the superpower of genetic
engineering. You will be an essential player in making
sure that you and no one else uses genetic engineer-
ing to do bad. Have a look back to the beginning of the
book, recite the Genetic Engineers’ Pledge and sign it.
PHAC created a biosecurity poster so you can learn
what biosecurity is and the importance of safe genetic
engineering. While this poster mentions “bacteria” as
a biosecurity risk, remember the difference between
“Risk Groups”. You are only using RG-1 organisms
throughout this book. The biosecurity poster, in
general, refers to “pathogenic organisms” that are
RG-2 or higher. Find the poster at https://amino.bio/
Just because I Can, does it mean
I should?
Technology is like a double-edged sword. This
means that while technology has the potential to do
immense good and even propel humanity to the next
phase of its evolution, technology can also do harm
at the level of the individual, environment, or even
populations. Biotechnology is no different than the
great technologies that preceded it.
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48 Zero to Genetic Engineering Hero - Chapter 2 - Setting Up Your Genetic Engineering Hero Space
For example, technology that enabled the reliable
creation of fire kept our ancestors warm during
winters, even entire ice-ages. However, even today,
re is the cause of millions of deaths every year due
to smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning.
One could even argue that harnessing re in the form
of the internal combustion engine has led to count-
less more deaths every year due to car accidents and
the unprecedented creation of greenhouse gases like
carbon dioxide, which has the potential to alter global
Ethical review boards are a common tool used
by universities, corporations, governments, and
non-government organizations to screen for negative
impacts of technology development. A long-stand-
ing dilemma is the use of animals during research
studies. Today, stringent rules are in place for animal
use, and alternative methods of study must be used
if possible. In other words, you are smart, and there
are probably other methods or experiments you can
use toward building your technology. Even if your
desired technology is new brain implant technology
where you require animal(s) to test your system, you
can easily design methods and experiments to test
out your technology using neuron cells in Petri dishes.
Only after you have demonstrated that your technol-
ogy works and will not kill neurons in a petri dish
should you even consider using animals.
There is much pain in our world, and you want to bring
positive change, so it is your duty to use your inge-
nuity to minimize the creation of negative impacts
of your experiments and technologies. Unforeseen
circumstances of the development and deployment
of technology are often difcult to predict. Still, with
dedicated contemplation, you can do your duty as a
responsible scientist/engineer/citizen to help bring
about positive change.
Always keep in mind that the conversation about the
technologies you will create during your lifetime is
ongoing and evolving - you should always be asking
the question: Just because I can, does it mean I
Should I? The 3 Levels of Technology Contemplation Breakout Exercise
While there is no perfect tool to assess for unintended consequences or whether your technology is ethical,
try using Amino Labs’ Three Levels of Technology Contemplation to assess any technology projects you start.
Don’t forget, you can share your work with the Genetic Engineering Hero community (amino.bio/commu-
nity), and you might get some feedback too!
Technology Name:
Intended impact:
For this technology, List two unintended secondary impacts that could occur if your technology becomes
a normal part of society. You should list one positive impact and one negative impact:
Positive Impact Negative Impact
A1. A2.
List two unintended tertiary (third level) impacts that could occur if your technology becomes a normal
part of society. You should list one positive impact and one negative impacts for each of your above listed
secondary unintended impacts:
Positive Impact Negative Impact
A1. A1.
A2. A2.
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