Tuesday 26 April 2011

For science! DIYBIO #2 @ MadLab

This week saw the second meeting of the Manchester branch (chapter?) of DIYBio. I attended the first meeting purely to have a look-see and take a few photos for Madlab, and found it so interesting that I've decided to get stuck right in.

As discussed in the first meeting, we're kicking things off with a relatively modest project, the Manchester Microbe map. I see this project as a kickstarter rather than a true maiden project, but it's definitely a solid foundation to build on for the group, and will not only allow us to see who can offer what to the group, but will also let us begin to think about where DIYBio Manchester is heading in terms of future projects.

The discussion throughout was great this time around, with the focus switched more to the group members as opposed to last month's more structured introductory talk, and it was awesome to see people from all sorts of backgrounds getting stuck in and chucking ideas around. Like I mentioned last time, I was really concerned that I'd be in a minority of creatives compared to scientists, but this isn't the case at all: there's a great mix of people involved.

Part of the session was quite a hands-on part, explaining how to take microbial samples from objects accurately. I'm sure that for the biologists in the room this part was everyday run-of-the-mill stuff, but for someone like me who has no experience with any of this, it was quite interesting to get my hands dirty (literally). We took samples of our hand-prints, and I also managed to take a good sample of the zoom lens on my camera: I'm not sure I want to see what will grow from four years of accumulated gigs and festivals, but it's for science I suppose. :)

The second half of the evening was a round-table discussion into the specifics of the Microbe Map project, and it was great to see that most people agreed on most bits of the plan (at least, I think they did). There was some interesting discussion on the ethics involved in anything we do, which I found surprising: even though all we're going to be doing is swabbing things, full permissions need to be granted so that our bases are covered. We decided that some sort of blanket authorisation would work best, so for example someone at the council could give us the OK, or perhaps someone involved in the transport network could give us a general OK to go ahead. I think that this is something that's still being worked out, but by the sounds of it this consideration is certainly going to affect how the project turns out.

In terms of specifics, the plan will be to try and sample Manchester in the same very specific timeframe, rather than say, over a week or so. This will allow us (as Martyn Amos put it) to take a biological 'snapshot' of Manchester, which means in turn that we'll have a slightly more focused set of results. We've agreed on May 4th to get together at Madlab, run out and sample whatever it is we're sampling, and return them back to Madlab at the same time. I'm still not 100% sure I can make it due to it being my anniversary, but there's plenty of people involved so we should get a good range of samples hopefully.

Even at this early stage I'm already considering the end results, in terms of visualising whatever data we come up with. On the night I really tried to push for people taking photographs in addition to collecting data about each sample, which will be really helpful. I have no idea where I'd want to take this visually yet, I'm currently investigating if there are any others in the group that would like to collaborate on this end of things, and of course we're waiting on specifics of the study to be announced. Once I get more info and have a think, I'll probably outline my plans in another post (incidentally, if anyone's reading this who's at the more creative end of the spectrum, please drop me an email or catch me at the next meet-up!)

So yes, game on. We're starting small, but hopefully this little taster will grow into something amazing. For science!

For more up-to-date discussion there's a Google group for DIYBio_MCR, a dedicated twitter feed, the Madlab website, and of course this humble blog. :)


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