DIYbiologists and Biohackers: Do Synthetic Biologists have something to learn from them and vice-versa?

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Sara Tocchetti

London School of Economics, United Kingdom

Keywords: DIYbio, participative, synthetic biology, publics Over the past five years DIYbiologists, biohackers and alike have been exploring and experimenting with a variety of participative practices. Those include organizing street workshops and holding booths at science festivals; setting up community laboratories, posting online videos and working closely with journalists and artists. Those activities reflect DIYbiologists intentions to make biology and biotechnology available to everyone, and establish what they understand as a truly democratic biotechnology. Meanwhile, struggling between claims and realities, the hope of a distributed and open biotechnology have also been made and defended by the early founders of synthetic biology. More recently researchers in the field of synthetic biology have also engaged in a variety of collaborative and ‘public outreach’ initiatives. These includes ‘classical approaches’ such as the invitation of leading scientists to join public conferences and events, but also more experimental approaches such as the Synthetic Aesthetic initiative; a project where synthetic biologists were invited to collaborate with designers and social scientists to explore the notion of design and nature. Following a three years ethnographic study of the DIYbio and biohacking network this paper compares the participative discourses and practices claimed and actually developed by both the members of the DIYbio network and the researchers in the field of synthetic biology. As the role of the public is becoming more influential on the development of science and technology, this paper’s aim is i) to critically highlight how the participatory initiatives from the DIYbio network and the ones from the synthetic biology community differs and ii) propose practical solutions so that those differences can become part of a productive synergy.