What have you made?Amino is a small and simple-to-use hardware system that enables anyone to grow and take care of living cells to create new and interesting things like fragrances, flavours, materials, medicine, and more. We are the world’s first publicly available bioengineering platform that can be used at home, in labs or in schools.
Everything in Amino is easy to follow and to understand —we try to explain it all in a very friendly way, but it is also a very sophisticated system that can be used in pro labs too. And, as a sophisticated piece of hardware with circulation and temperature controls for the user, it enables you to continuously grow while collecting multiple sources of data in real time to help you keep tabs on how fast your microbes are growing and how much food they’re eating. It has modular chambers, that allows you to swap in new microbe food and nutrients, pH balancing solutions, and even other chemicals that help control your DNA program in your microbe.
Amino has a screen for real-time instructions and indicator lights to guide you through the creation process, making it suitable for beginners. Amino reduces the size and complex nature of large laboratory equipment into a counter-top sized system ready for anyone to use.
What gave you the initial inspiration?I was actually researching scents and hormones when I had my first brush with Synthetic Biology. Natalie Kuldell of Biobuilder and the MIT dept. of BioEngineering informed a microfluidics class I was in that you could create scents and hormone sensors with cells. That was an amazing discovery for me. And, as the buzz around synthetic biology grew around the media lab, I got involved in a small workshop with Synbiota where we transformed cells to make violacein, an anti-cancer compound used in research. What amazed me the most was how fun and casual it was —we were eating pastry and having coffees in my lab director’s kitchen whilst hacking living things! Following that, and my growing awareness of how bioengineering was going to be one of the drivers of the next century, I decided to help make synbio and bioengineering friendly desirable to hackers, makers, kids, everyone.
What is the original idea behind this project?I think what is novel about this project is in its design-focused approach. Not only are we designing around a very complex and polarizing topic —bioengineering/synthetic biology—but we are trying to make it accessible to the mainstream public in an easy and intuitive way.
By using a design-driven approach to product development, it enables us to really understand what the public’s needs and fears are so that we can address them.
How does it work?Amino can be used by makers, students, bakers, brewers, explorers alike. Amino is a general platform for growing living cells like friendly bacteria or yeast. Bacteria are used in products like yogurt, cheese, soy sauce, medicine and cosmetics. Yeast are used to brew beer, bake cakes, breads and other yummy things. Both can also be used to create flavours, scents, materials.
Each Amino units allow you to run an array of Amino Apps and our simple 1-2-3 step process makes it easy to program DNA into living cells and then grow, and take care of those cells to learn about biology and to create awesome things. Amino has a set of on-screen, real-time instructions and status indicator lights, as well as online videos and walk-throughs to guide you.
All living cells have DNA in them that tell the cells what to create, how to grow, and how to interact with their environment. DNA is kind of like a software program for living cells, and the cells are like the mini factories that run the DNA programs. At Amino, we think of DNA programs like an Android or iPhone "Apps" for living cells.
But even more, keeping living cells alive outside of their normal environment requires other growth liquids, like food, and chemicals. Amino Apps are a combination of the DNA programs and the growth liquids. Amino Apps supply you with fun sugars and liquids that help grow and modify your culture. We are also developing a way for you to be able to add your own substances too (create your own growth liquid) — what happens if you give you living cells coffee, vinegar, apple juice? You tell us!
Living Cells + DNA program + Growth Liquid = Amino App
The array of possible Amino Apps is endless. We are already thinking about what is next. What about Amino Apps that could enable you to practice engineering bread, beer, cider or wine yeast? Or yogurt bacteria? What about smells or colours? You could even practice making medicine. And, if you’re up for the challenge, you can develop your own DNA program, and grow and culture it using your Amino.
As a kit-based system, Amino is for everyone -- want to create something we haven't mentioned yet ? Let us know your ideas!
3 steps Process
1. Make it: you get to put a DNA program into living cells using Amino. This is what is called the “Transformation”.
2. Grow it: over the next 12-24 hours, those cells you created will grow, multiply and express their new program. In Amino, you can keep tabs on how your living cells are growing thanks to the sensors.
3. Keep it: by choosing when and how much food, chemicals, and what temperature to grow the cells at, you really do get to take care of your living cells. To keep it alive for long periods of time, you will need to refill its food supplies. Each refill kit will be available from our shop and distributors.
How long did it take to make it real?During my thesis, I focussed mostly on the user experience and on the design —How do you make bioengineering in the home desirable—since then, from that initial Tamagotchi for synthetic biology idea in fall of 2014 to now, many changes have happened for Amino and Amino Labs. Most notably, we became a company —Amino Labs! I joined up with talented friends in montreal to make the vision a consumer-ready reality beyond my arduino /hacking hardware skills - we now have electrical and mechanical engineers working on making amino durable, safer and manufacturable. And although a version of Amino will be ready for march 2016, 1 year and a half after the idead, we still have a ways to go in terms of full-scale manufacturing and developing new Apps, functionalities and add-on modules!
How did you build it?When i started to build it, I used off the shelf components like arduinos, aquarium pumps, sensor kits from atlas scientific and laboratory glassware. Since then the EE team has redesign the circuits to make them smaller and manufacturable, and has made in-house versions of the sensors.
And there were a lot of hours and days spent at the laser cutter for the interface and layout, on materials ranging from paper, cardboard, to felt to ply and hardwoods to plastics.
Optical Density (calibrated for OD600)
Temperature (two sensors: T1: +/- 2 C; T2 +/- 0.1 C)
Functionalities compared to traditional lab technology
Water baths, heading blocks become Incubation stations ( plate ) with temperature controls (30 C - 42 C)
Shaker incubation becomes continuous liquid growth with temperature & flow controls (flow & dimensions optimized)
Instead of having to collect samples and use equipment like a spectrophotometer, you get real time data analysis in a browser
Autoclave is replaced by Amino's contained inactivation protocol (uses contained chemical inactivation)
Did you create the amino with other people?I created the idea of amino, and the first demo-prototype, for my thesis at MIT Media Lab. I had counsel and mentorship from my academic advisor and board of thesis readers as well as friends and colleagues. A key player in the development of Amino was an early relationship with Synbiota, who work to make bioengineering software and wetware accessible. Working with their technology for the wetware side of things enables Amino to concentrate on good hardware and user experience.
Since then, Ive teamed up with friends in Montreal to build the commercial prototypes of Amino to get it ready for the public.