Biotech is expensive, accessible only to big-time companies. Borrowing a page from the ideals of free software/open source, a KickStarter project dubbed as Otyp hopes to make it affordable and accessible and hopefully spark the imagination of high school students. Otyp does not compete with the big boys. It’s more like a “Hello, World!” computer programming tutorial, but for biotechnology.
Otyp is about creating a platform: Open Bio Tool Kit.
When technologies are closed or inaccessible, only those who acquire the technologies for their designated purpose ever use them. There’s no room for experimentation, creativity, and thinking outside the box.
Open technologies have low barriers to entry; they are inexpensive; they invite and inspire critical minds to modify and innovate with them; they are platforms for new technologies; they help to drive “progress.”
Computer software is an open technology. Anyone with time, will, and a thousand dollar computer can create and modify computer code to their heart’s content. The last two decades have demonstrated that, when given this opportunity, the least likely individuals can create inventions that change our world.
The systems that code living things are still closed. Only corporate and university researchers have the freedom to experiment with the software of life, and they’ve done some pretty incredible things: like create treatments for diabetes, cancer drugs, and even beautiful works of art. If we can achieve this much with only a small group of biologists, imagine what could happen if the code of life was democratized.
It’d be like turning DARPAnet into the Internet.
So what’s stopping biology from becoming an open technology? Two things.
– Education: people need to know how the code works before they can do things with it. Our education platform is called gen.otyp (It’s currently in the process of being converted from Peyer Laboratory Systems (www.peyerlabs.com).
– Tools: required to manipulate and use the code. We are developing these tools as otyp.
There’s a lot of work going into improving biology education. But it’s hard to get someone excited about computer programs when they’ve never seen a computer before. Similarly, it’s hard to get students excited about biology without letting them get their hands dirty actually doing things themselves.
That’s why it’s so important to have a Tool Kit of biology equipment: to give students, entrepreneurs, and hobbyists access to the life sciences. With open technologies that can be improved, built upon, shared, and expanded.
That’s what Otyp is about.