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Shrinking the Genetics Lab

How long will it be before advanced genetic analysis technologies break out of the lab and into the home and kitchen?
A team of researchers from University College London are betting that it may be very soon, and unveiled their concept for a do-it-yourself DNA analysis lab at the Maker Faire in Rome last week, Wired reports.

They are working to build a portable, easy-to-use, DNA analysis lab in a box that could be used to test the contents of foods, or for diseases, and a range of other uses.

UCL student Philipp Boeing, an organizer for the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition, presented the Darwin Toolbox idea in Rome.

At the moment, all the team has to show off is an empty container about the size of a boot or hat box, but their ambition is to squeeze into that 13 by 11 inch space all the necessities for basic DNA analysis.

These will include a PCR machine, a centrifuge with a small electric motor, and a gel box for DNA separation.

"We want to make biotechnology accessible for everyone and decrease any interference that sits between society and biotechnology everywhere," Boeing says.

He and his partners do plan to commercialize the Darwin Toolbox when it is completed, although they don't know just yet how they might approach the consumer marketplace. They will consider using an open-source model, enabling others to develop tests for the toolbox that also might work on other platforms, or an "Apple-like" structure with tests tailored for the box.

The UCL team's goal is to make this toolbox useful for a range of everyday purposes, such as testing organic food to analyze its genetic makeup in the kitchen.

Boeing and his partners have only a few weeks to finish scaling down the testing tools that will go into the box and get it working, as the iGEM competition is being held at MIT next month.