When I was at Maker Faire Detroit last month, I met the guys from Otyp, and was very impressed by them and their work. They've created an open source thermal cycler, called the Thermotyp, along with a number of biotech projects for high schoolers. At Make Faire, they were showing people how to use the Thermotyp to clone jellyfish DNA and spell out "Hello World!" in fluorescent DNA in a petri dish.
Otyp is trying to raise a total of $10,000 to distribute their thermal cyclers and project kits to high schools. Through Kickstarter, they've already received about $7,500. They have five days to go before the campaign closes!
Our project is designed to give students a first glimpse at the tools used in modern biotechnology. By performing the same techniques that were used to generate recombinant insulin to treat diabetics and make transgenic animals to study cancer, but on a standardized, introductory level, students can learn the basics of how biotechnology is done, so that they can start to think about how they can use those tools to create and experiment themselves.
It's like a "Hello, World!" computer programming tutorial, but for biotechnology.
The biotech hardware and supplies produced today are too expensive for high schools' tight budgets. For our lab course, Cloning a Fluorescent Gene, to be affordable, we are reducing costs to schools:
(1) by distributing Cloning a Fluorescent Gene's hybrid textbook and lab manual under a Creative Commons Share-Alike license, so that teachers can download, print, and distribute the textbook at no cost
(2) by renting out equipment that would cost schools an initial investment of more than $6000 for $300 per school. This is the first time that a company has offered to do this, and it currently the only way to get these expensive research tools to fit into schools' tight budgets
(3) by developing an industry-sized 96-well open source PCR machine (Thermotyp), a tool that is the foundation for manipulating DNA that until now has cost $3500. This will give us a low cost machine that can accommodate the experiments from multiple classes, which we can then use to make our equipment rentals even more affordable.
The combination of these strategies will allow us to produce Cloning a Fluorescent Gene, a high-level biotech laboratory course, for about the same price as existing, dull high school lab kits.