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Democratize Biotech! Can community labs jumpstart distributed production/distribution of critical biotech tools?

Raised of $10,000 Goal
Funded on 8/13/23
Successfully Funded
  • $12,250
  • 122%
  • Funded
    on 8/13/23

About This Project

Equitable access to biotechnology is a global challenge in low-resource settings where there is limited ability to source, safely transport and pay for expensive, temperature-sensitive reagents. Enzymes are the workhorse tools of biotech R&D. Can we turn our community lab into a hub of decentralized enzyme production/distribution and empower others to do the same worldwide with a step-by-step guide with best practices and starter tools?

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What is the context of this research?

While developed countries have made incredible progress in using biotechnology to combat disease, grow crops with less environmental impact and remediate toxic waste, the enormous potential benefits of biotech cannot be realized in low-resource settings where there is limited access to enzymes, the workhorse tools of biotech. If enzymes could be produced on-site in these settings using low cost materials and equipment it could jumpstart bio-based innovation where it is desperately needed to combat such global threats as climate change, pollution and disease. Distributed tools will lead to more distributed innovation and help jumpstart R&D in underserved areas of the world.

What is the significance of this project?

There have been several efforts (Open Bioeconomy,, FreeGenes) to democratize the practice of biotechnology through development of open-source reagents and protocols but more help is needed. Community biolabs represent an untapped resource for development of DIY and low-cost methodologies for production of R&D equipment and reagents for low-resource settings. They are a worldwide network of nonprofit biotechnology laboratory facilities that serve the public by providing low- or no-cost access for citizen scientists, educators, biotechnologists and students to learn and innovate in the biosciences. This project will create a replicable model to enable community labs to become hubs of manufacture and distribution of critical enzymes for biotechnology R&D.

What are the goals of the project?

We want to improve on the resources out there by taking them a step further and becoming a working node or hub for production and distribution of critical tools (enzymes). We have already started by obtaining collections of DNA from FreeGenes. First we will improve on the FreeGenes collection by moving into ready-to-use formats (expression vectors). Then we will optimize the use of the DNA to make the enzymes (production and purification). We will develop best practices for being a distribution node. Lastly we will document the entire journey and turn it into a guide for other labs that want to produce and distribute these tools, and provide them with the improved starter materials and protocols.


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The FreeGenes project provides plasmids containing critical enzymes however they must be cloned into IP-free expression vectors before use. We need lab reagents and supplies and DNA synthesis/sequencing services to do this. We also need reagents and supplies to test different production methods and to optimize expression starting with protocols from We also want to cover lab access (Biotech Without Borders membership) cost of $100 per month and local travel expenses for five volunteers working on this project at least one day per week for six months. In addition we will pay the PhD-level supervisor for volunteer training/coordination. The result will be a kit tailored to community labs with a step-by-step guide published on our website and a set of low cost starter supplies that goes beyond FreeGenes by being more ready-to-use.

Endorsed by

Ellen Jorgensen and her team are in an excellent position to advance open source biology to benefit the global community using the IP free tools from FreeGenes. The open resources that come from this project will benefit those needing low cost diagnostics and other enzyme-based tools. As a contributor to the Open Bioeconomy Lab's Open Enzyme collection and E. coli Protein Expression Toolkit as well as the creator of the Open Yeast Collection now in over 50 countries, I fully endorse this project.
I think this is a great project because it's building on existing IP-free resources and if successful will create documentation that allows more folks to use these biotech tools. It will strengthen the knowledge base that surrounds the FreeGenes resource and will be helpful to other community labs as a result.

Project Timeline

We hope to have at least one set of critical enzymes moved into expression vectors and the production protocols optimized within six months. It should take another month to put together the guide for other labs and produce a kit of expression plasmids and other reagents to distribute. We have an Opentrons robot that can automate the pipetting steps for making distributions of the finished materials we will be distributing to anyone that requests them. The aim is to keep the cost very low.

Jul 14, 2023

Project Launched

Aug 31, 2023

Move FreeGenes Enzyme Collection into expression vectors

Dec 31, 2023

Optimize production protocols 

Jan 31, 2024

Produce and distribute guide and kits

Meet the Team

Ellen Jorgensen
Ellen Jorgensen


Biotech Without Borders, Inc.
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Team Bio

Biotech Without Borders members are citizen scientists and professionals who have their own individual projects but come together in a group to work on projects that are large collaborative efforts to democratize biotechnology. We have participated in such projects as development of a LAMP-based isothermal Covid test and the Open Plant project. We are a diverse group with skills in biotech, journalism, music, art and business.

Ellen Jorgensen

I am a passionate believer in the power of citizen science and distributed biotechnology. Since 2011 I’ve provided hands-on biotechnology lab training to the general public and taught hundreds of adults and students the joy of genetic engineering for the good of the world. After earning a Ph.D. in Cell & Molecular Biology from New York University I spent over 30 years in the biotechnology industry. In 2009 I became aware of the DIYbio movement and cofounded Genspace, a community biolab in Brooklyn that was named one of the World's Top 10 Innovative Companies in Education. I’ve been privileged to be a SynbioLEAP fellow, receive a Shuttleworth Foundation Flash Grant, be an alumni of the Amsterdam School of Creative Leadership THNK, be the founding Education Committee Chair of the GP-write consortium to construct a human genome, and be named by Fast Company magazine as one of their Most Creative Leaders in Business. My efforts to develop innovative ways to support citizen participation in science have been chronicled by Nature Medicine, Science, Discover Magazine, Wired, Make, BBC News, Dan Rather Reports, PBS News Hour, The Discovery Channel, and The New York Times. My passion for science in the service of humanity can be seen in my TED talks, “Biohacking: You Can Do It Too” and “What You Need To Know About CRISPR” .

Currently I spend most of my time at Biotech Without Borders, a 501(c)3 nonprofit community lab in Queens, NY that I founded in 2017 with a mission to democratize biotechnology at the grassroots level. This is where the project work will be done.

Additional Information

We currently have two LifeSciNY college summer interns working on this under volunteer PhD-level supervision from our member base. By the time this campaign finishes they will have vetted and prepared the FreeGenes materials (plasmids) so there will be plenty for us to work with, and will have developed engineering strategies for moving the open reading frames into expression vectors.

Project Backers

  • 22Backers
  • 122%Funded
  • $12,250Total Donations
  • $556.82Average Donation
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