This experiment is part of the Low-Cost Tools for Science Challenge Grant. Browse more projects

Affordable and Accessible Experimental Evolution for the Classroom

$13,109
Raised of $10,000 Goal
131%
Funded on 6/03/23
Successfully Funded
  • $13,109
    pledged
  • 131%
    funded
  • Funded
    on 6/03/23

About This Project

The field of biology may be advancing by leaps and bounds but the resources for students to access these new findings are growing at a glacial pace. Tools that help students explore the living world are often very expensive, where technologies like bioreactors are extremely cost prohibitive. This project aims to address this gap in access by developing an open source, low-cost microbial experimental evolution platform made from off the shelf components and easily printed parts.

Ask the Scientists

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What is the context of this research?

Evolution is one of the most amazing triumphs of the living world. The concept and process of heritable change has fascinated humanity since Darwin's Origin of Species and many have dedicated their lives to study this incredible phenomena. One such person, Richard Lenski, devised a simple yet ingenious experiment to observe this change across time - the LTEE ( Long Term Experimental Evolution). This experiment has been running non-stop since 1988 and has taught us valuable lessons in the speed, frequency, and general trajectories of microbial evolution. Lenski only tested a handful of parameters in a single species of microbe. What new wonders could we learn if we enable students to explore the LTEE using new organisms and experimental conditions?

What is the significance of this project?

Despite the decades of research into the nature and mechanisms of evolution, the ability to teach the subject in a manner that is engaging, convincing, and retains the student's interest, remains challenging for educators. There're mountains of evidence educators can pull from when showing examples of evolution, but there's nothing quite like hands-on learning to solidify concepts in a student's mind. Having the opportunity to design experiments which demonstrate the process of adaptation by natural selection throughout a school semester, where the conditions are unique to the student's curiosity, is something worth exploring. There are more questions than stars in the universe. Why not leverage educational experiences to explore further?

What are the goals of the project?

Will students gain greater comprehension of evolution by engaging with open source tools that automate the LTEE process?

The goal of this project is to see if enabling students to test their own evolutionary hypotheses in a hands-on manner will result in deeper learning about the living world. To do this I will develop a modular open source hardware platform, the EasyEVO, and provide prototypes to a group of educators to help develop open curricular modules for the classroom. The robot will allow students to easily grow microbes and evolve them in an automated manner to adapt to new conditions over long periods of time.

Budget

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The largest financial burden in making this project a reality is not being able to buy parts at wholesale prices. Buying straight from the manufacturer, and asking for competitive quotes, will allow for the maximum amount of robots made per dollar spent. A new printer will help speed up prototyping since large parts occupy my only printer for many hours at a time. A second printer for smaller parts would expedite module development, a core feature, significantly. To prove the system does what it says it does we need to sequence the evolved microbes. Microbial sequencing outsourcing has gotten affordable enough to do rapid prototyping in microbiology, and the specified budget would allow for many repeats to determine most effective evolution scheme optimized for a typical school semester. The rest of the budget will be spent on covering logistics to ship a fleet of robots to teachers for beta testing and curriculum development around the robot.

Endorsed by

One of the toughest things I face at a small liberal arts institution is having accurate, simple to use equipment for my small undergraduate research lab. Determining growth rates, and carrying out evolution in the lab with microbes are vital concerns to me---both in the classroom and in the lab. Sebastian is a proven "maker" of wonderful equipment, and I cannot wait to use this devicve1
Sebastian is one of the best scientists I know, following his curiosity and passion to explore the intricacies of the organisms that fascinate him: “star-sippers,” - you might know them as plants (He'll be the first to tell you and the thousands of other people following him on Facebook and Instagram that they are way, way cooler than you can imagine). Backing this project means that thousands more will benefit from the decade he's spent building his own lab and developing tools and techniques to do low-cost, high-quality science.
I needed a device for evolving genetic tools, so Sebastian and I worked together (98% Sebastian) to build this device. It is much cheaper than alternatives and more customizable/modular.

Project Timeline

Over the next year, I wish to work directly with educators and researchers at the undergraduate and/or high school level to develop curriculum modules built around the robot. The first few months will be focused on parts acquisition, documenting the robot thoroughly, and publishing a preprint on the system. Then I plan to share a few robots with an educator for a preliminary test in a classroom setting before working with a larger group to polish curriculum modules.

May 04, 2023

Project Launched

Jun 01, 2023

Produce and Polish a DIY Build Guide and User Manual for the Robot

Jul 01, 2023

Obtain enough wholesale parts for at least 20 Robots

Aug 01, 2023

Setup an EasyEVO Forum to allow educators to brainstorm and troubleshoot

Sep 01, 2023

Begin preliminary testing with an educator for one semester to determine viable experiments that fit a single semester

Meet the Team

Sebastian S. Cocioba
Sebastian S. Cocioba
Independent Researcher

Affiliates

Binomica Labs
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Sebastian S. Cocioba

I'm an amateur biologist working out of my home lab in New York as part of Binomica Labs, an educational and research non-profit where we develop the hardware, software, wetware, and thoughtware necessary to enable anyone to explore the living world. I have almost a decade of experience in embedded hardware systems and have built and/or repaired many of the tools I use in my day to day practice. As my day job, I work as a research contractor in the plant bioengineering sector (Currently employed at Neoplants) where my hardware skills often overlap to meet bespoke client needs. Everything that I make is expensed out of pocket and entirely open source, where I try my best to document my projects such that anyone can easily reproduce both my designs and results as well was modify said designs to fit their needs. I believe in a world where free and open communication of ideas is possible, and where the resources to act upon these ideas are readily available. My small part in making this world a reality is in the development and documentation of easily understood and easily repairable tools that grow with the user's skills. There are more questions about the living world than there are stars in the observable universe so I highly recommend getting out there and exploring your the splendor of your local environment. There are countless life forms awaiting description!

Additional Information

I have designed a working prototype for a modular turbidostat that currently costs under $200 in parts, with drastic reduction in cost if I can purchase parts in bulk. Here are some images of the working robot and the optical density output, cycling Vibrio natriegens and E. coli.