Bento Lab, the first affordable DNA laboratory, has successfully concluded its beta-testing and is now preparing to fund its first production run.
As well as seeking funding from traditional sources, Bento Lab is launching a Kickstarter campaign to fund the production run - giving people the chance to conduct experiments at home or in the field.
In September 2015, using funding awarded as prizes from the London E-Challenge, UCL's Bright Idea Awards, the IBLF Awards and the Royal Academy of Engineering's ERA Foundation Entrepreneurs Award, Bento Lab built twenty Bento Lab units and sent them to beta-testers all around the world.
The innovative device, which fits in a laptop bag, was created by Bethan Wolfenden and Philipp Boeing whilst studying at University College London, to make biology tools accessible and easy to use. After organising hands-on biotechnology workshops in schools and community centres, Bethan and Philipp were increasingly frustrated by the lack of accessible hardware. This led to the creation of Bento Lab. “We were both really excited by the potential of the maker movement and citizen science, but we saw a lack of easy-to-use equipment and kits for biology, when compared to Arduino for electronics or Raspberry Pi for computing”, says Philipp Boeing.
Bethan Wolfenden says: “In 2013 we went to a maker festival in Rome with a laboratory in a suitcase that we had built in a weekend. We talked to thousands of people about the idea of an easy-to-use biotech laboratory, and this really inspired us to go forwards”. Over the next two years, they constructed several prototypes with a team of students at UCL’s Institute of Making, and tested them at workshops and science festivals. “We received incredible support from the community and a lot of interest from academics and teachers, but also from citizen scientists and people curious about genetics.”
With the prototypes, the team have won awards from the Royal Academy of Engineering, UCL Advances and Imperial College’s SynbiCITE. To go further, Bethan and Philipp partnered up with experienced RCA alumni Instrument PD and Kudu Studio. The team is now aiming to raise funds through a variety of channels, including Kickstarter, to fund the first production run. “We need to raise at least £35,000 towards the production cost of the units, but the more funds we raise the more we can invest in educational resources and sustainability” says Philipp. The campaign raises funds through pre-ordering Bento Lab devices, as well as through donations.
Even donations as little as £1 will help their project come to life. To follow and share the project on social media, find them on twitter @theBentoLab and Facebook.
If you’d like to know more about Bento Lab, or if you’d like to schedule an interview with Bethan or Philipp please email firstname.lastname@example.org or send them a tweet @theBentoLab.
Bethan Wolfenden studied Biochemistry (BSc) at University College London to follow in the footsteps of her childhood hero Jay Keasling, a pioneer in the field of Synthetic Biology. She is currently pursuing a PhD, researching how novel therapeutics can be delivered via the gut microbiome. As an undergraduate, Bethan led UCL’s social enterprise society, and she founded a project teaching science journalism to school students. Bethan has also participated and advised UCL’s teams for iGEM (the international genetically engineered machine competition). Since 2012 she is an active participant of the European DIYbio movement, exploring how molecular biology can be practiced in citizen science contexts. She supports WISE (Women in Science Education) and is passionate about increasing diversity in the maker movement.
Philipp Boeing studied Computer Science (MEng) at University College London with a focus on Synthetic Biology as part of the Computational Systems and Synthetic Biology group at UCL's Department of Cell and Developmental Biology. Philipp has been involved in iGEM (the international genetically engineered machine competition) since 2011, by leading and advising teams at UCL, hosting the UK "Young Synthetic Biologists" conference and serving as a judge in 2014. After leading a collaboration between the 2012 UCL iGEM team and a local group of “London Biohackers”, Philipp grew increasingly passionate about access to biotechnology in citizen science. In 2015 Philipp spent time with the bio-media-arts group BCL.io in Tokyo, supported by a scholarship from the Heinz Nixdorf Foundation, exploring the intersection of art, society and biology.