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9 March, 2018 - 13:27 By Kate Sweeney

Historic Cambridge biology lab spreads its wings

A revolutionary new community biology lab designed to inspire ahead-of-the curve research launched in Cambridge has put out the welcome mat to all-comers.

The historic Biomakespace Cambridge laboratory has been lauded by serial entrepreneurs and senior academics alike and is open to anyone keen to work at the interface of biology and engineering.

Based on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus, the laboratory is accepting new membership applications straight away.

The Biomakespace community is focused on curiosity-driven research, as well as offering training workshops, hackathons, talks, socials and public engagement activities.

It is part of a global movement in community biotechnology and is particularly focused on synthetic biology, which has a range of commercial applications and is using the cutting edge of modern genetic engineering techniques.

A dedicated team of volunteers have been working since September 2016 to transform unused rooms in the historic Laboratory of Molecular Biology building into a fully equipped molecular biology lab and bio-prototyping space. The space already boasts an impressive array of equipment including a scanning confocal microscope and 3D printing facilities.

Collaboration is at the heart of Biomakespace, with a focus on team projects, skill-sharing and building a supportive community. Jenny Molloy, a co-founder and director explained that this is why Biomakespace keeps their membership low cost: “We want to build an inclusive community that is accessible to people who are interested in biology but wouldn’t typically have access to research facilities.”

The space has already proved popular with students, professional scientists and local companies, and several scientific projects are planned. More than 10 members of the Cambridge University Synthetic Biology Student Society (CUSBS) are running a student-led project creating 'bacterial photography'.

In another project, biologists,electronic and software engineers are collaborating on a ‘Plug ‘n’ Play’ introduction to engineering logic circuits using DNA.

Any Biomakespace member is welcome to submit a research project for consideration, which is transparently assessed by an experienced biosafety committee using the highest safety and ethical standards.

Another crucial part of Biomakespace’s mission is to increase lifelong learning opportunities in biology and engineering, where non-experts can participate in hands-on activities to expand their skills, alongside trained scientists.

Abigail Wood, a director at Biomakespace, said: “It’s a fantastic opportunity to demystify complex scientific subjects and bring public understanding up to date with the achievements of 21st century biology.” The team are currently recruiting for a new public engagement coordinator to increase the range of activities offered.

Broad support for the launch of this new space has come, with generous in-kind backing and recognition from the University of Cambridge and the local innovation community.

The lab was visited by Cambridge entrepreneur and venture capitalist Hermann Hauser, who said: “I applaud Biomakespace’s vision to build a diverse community of people who seek to learn and collaborate at the interface of biology and engineering.

“Bringing together people with complementary expertise, providing lifelong learning opportunities, and access to affordable lab space is a winning combination to advance the next generation of biotechnology.”

Professor Andy Neely, pro-vice-chancellor for Enterprise and Business Relations at the University of Cambridge recently highlighted that Cambridge is continuously strengthening its world-leading entrepreneurial ecosystem by filling perceived gaps and needs from its stakeholders.

According to Andy Neely: “Biomakespace is doing just that. We welcome this community initiative which will provide pre-venture entrepreneurs and early-stage ventures with much needed prototyping space. I look forward to watching Biomakespace develop their contribution to the Cambridge entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

Financial support has been provided by donations from founder members, and local companies including Arm, eLife and Elpis Biomed Donations; the team are now fundraising to add more equipment to their prototyping workshop and to support future projects in the space.

For more details on initiatives, membership and job opportunities visit https://biomake.space/home

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