Thursday, February 5, 2009

Backyard Science and the Kitchen Lab

Having blogged so much on students' perspectives and related issues in biotechnology, I've decided to move on further into the field of biotechnology by talking about my pet projects and hobbies that I hope to have that is biotech-related. Biotech-related hobby sounds slightly oxymoronic, in fact, how could someone take something that requires large amounts of funding and high-end equipment and bring it into a backroom some where at home to do on a casual basis. But that is just what I've been thinking of minus the amount of money that I would have to bleed.

This thought came about from a short discussion with Dr. Kodiswaran from FRIM during one of his tissue culture workshops where he spoke on the potentials of tissue culture, and emphasizing that the technology is not as hard as most people perceive. In fact, he mentioned that there are specific groups in the Western world where hobbyists actually come together to make up ways that it would be possible to do tissue culture at home, away from the sterile rooms and laminar flow.

How is this possible? Searching Google with keywords "Tissue Culture At Home", it was not hard to find a good website which talks about doing tissue culture at home. Many of them were very well organized and the terminology was not difficult to be understood by laymen. One of the more comprehensive site would be this one by Rick Walker of Agilent Labs ( While there is another one which is more image intensive by Carol M. Stiff of Kitchen Culture Kits a company selling equipment for home tissue culture like media etc. ( )

However, I should also add that it would be possible to do tissue culture with items that one can buy from hardware stores and pharmacies, without having to buy specific items like Murashige-Skoog (MS) media, plant hormones etc. from specialized stores. Some of them can be substituted, other left out. On the other hand, instead of having a sterile laminar flow cabinet to ensure sterility of the workspace, home tissue culture can be conducted by using a fish tank left on the side and which is sterilized by bleach, and instead of an autoclave, a pressure cooker is used to sterilize all equipment used.

Home tissue culture is the art of adapting to circumstances in the real world. Instead of being cooped up in the laboratories of the ivory towers, one is allowed to let one's imagination run free. Breaking out of the boxes that years of academic learning has forced upon us. Instead of perfect, spotless lab settings, one is forced to adapt to less than perfect circumstances with one's understanding of the basic theories in science.

To be frank, it is a lot more interesting and a lot more amusing when one is forced to use whatever limited resources that one may find at home to do frontline scientific work. Remember back in high school when one is required to extract DNA from onions using table salt and rubbing alcohol. The items are what we use on a daily basis for various implements, but yet by combining them, we are able to delve into the heart and core of science research. This keeps the various scientific theories alive.

I do hope the DIY trend would continue to grow strong. With soaring oil prices in 2008, DIY biodiesel manuals were hot items in bookstores, and many a house had backyard biodiesel manufacturing apparatus installed. Would we begin to see an advent in which backyard tissue culture or molecular diagnostics at home would come to fore? I know there are online groups devoted to such work. (Root beer-flavoured gel electrophoresis anyone? just check out I shall delve into this in a little more depth when I start to do my own backyard science. :)

Maybe one day, the scientist who would ultimately win the Nobel Prize in any of the science disciplines would discover the invention in their own backyard.

As a last note, I'll append the link to a charming poem by Kari-Lynn Winters called "A Scientist Lives in Our Kitchen". This reminds me of my own childhood where I used to terrorise the household with my curiousity, with experiments like "the effects of granny's hairdye on our albino siamese cat", "physical machinations of toothpaste in granny's sewing machine" and "the chemistry of various shampoos and its effect on hair", "fake plastic fish in the freezer: an experimentation on human psyche in relation to the discernment of the identity of frozen food". ;)


Grunder said...

Very interesting indeed.

Quality propagation material are really hard to come by these days, and the price is outright daylight robbery. Hence, only those with purchasing power could afford it.

Intellectual property aside, i think DIY tissue culture will give our economy a boost by significantly reducing propagation material costs and giving general population access to better quality material at a lower price. Be it amateur gardener or a small holder, the impact would be significant.

Maybe the government could help by giving some expert advice and how to`s.

Thanks for the link. I`m looking for some DIY tissue culture info myself. I want to set up a small nice lab, maybe propagate some plants, kill some and mutate some :) i haven`t had that opportunity last time i was in university.. too bad.


MABIC blog said...

There is and has always been a strong trend in adapting technology and reproducing it in the comforts of the home. Take beer brewing, biodiesel synthesis etc, for examples. Backyard scientists are the armchair enthusiasts who adapt what they learn and know into something they can utilize in real life.

That being said, home tissue culture is beneficial, especially for students in less resource rich schools, as well as those of us who are interested in science as this allows us to adapt what we know, aka biology, biotechnology, into our pet projects, just like how they managed to adapt biodiesel making at home with chemistry knowledge.

Tissue culture had been a fad some time ago, when I remember seeing plantlets in tiny bottles being sold as decoration. Maybe it would heat up again?

In any case, all the best to you, Wan for your tissue culture project. I shall share my endeavors when I have some positive results. :)