At a recent O'Reilly/Nature/Google Science Foo Camp, a group of smart folks interested in DIY biology discussed how DNA tests for infectious diseases and the potential of molecular biology in general was unlikely to make it to developing nations anytime soon. The essential tool, a PCR machine that makes copies of DNA fragments, is just too damn expensive. So rather than shrug and move on, they decided to put their ingenuity where their mouths are and make a small, inexpensive PCR machine. The LavaAmp, a portable device for cheap PCR in the field and DIY biotech, is now in prototype. From an email written by Venezuelan biologist Guido Núñez-Mujica, co-developer of the LavaAmp:
LavaAmp is the result of the collaboration of Rob Carlson and his
engineering partner, Rik Wehbring, founders of Biodesic, a Bioengineering firm, Jim Hardy,
bioentrepreneur founder of Gahaga Biosciences, Joseph Jackson, a
philosopher interested in Open Science and DIY Biology and me, a comp.
biologist. SciFoo put us in touch, and in my particular case, exposed
me to a culture of entrepreneurship that I was not familiar with. It
was the catalyst that made us embark in this venture: Try to develop,
manufacture and market a simple, inexpensive device to perform PCR,
the backbone of molecular biology, based on existing technology that
was never developed until we took it over.
Right now, we have developed a prototype and are about to start the manufacturing, if we can get enough funds. In order to gather funds we are competing in a program for social entrepreneurs, The Unreasonable Institute, where we need pledges from supporters in order to gain access
to training, mentoring and funding.