The Open Philanthropy Project recommended two grants totaling $706,750 over three years to Dan Grushkin and Todd Kuiken, Ph.D., to evaluate and support the creation of biosafety and biosecurity practices in DIYbio labs. This includes a grant of $454,025 to Genspace, where Mr. Grushkin is Executive Director, and a grant of $252,725 to North Carolina State University, where Dr. Kuiken is a Senior Research Scholar.
The project includes two parts:
- Visiting numerous DIYbio labs and gathering information on the kinds of experiments they’re doing and the safety and security provisions they have in place.
- Creating a biosafety and biosecurity pilot program in three DIYbio labs. This will involve hiring three early-career biosafety officers to work in these labs for a year and figure out how to apply standard biosafety procedures and biosecurity provisions in the DIY lab context. The goals of this activity are to improve safety and security standards in the participating labs and to establish three biosafety and biosecurity experts with a specialization in DIY labs. The three officers will also develop a list of biosafety and biosecurity best practices for DIY labs and co-author a shareable manual that can be used by others.
We decided to recommend these grants for several reasons:
- We believe that the democratization of advanced biotechnology tools that were once accessible only to advanced labs at elite institutions is making it increasingly difficult to prevent the misuse of biotechnology, and we expect that barriers to access to these tools will continue to fall. We believe that it is important to reduce the risks of misuse by working to ensure that the spaces where bioscience research takes place (including university, industry, and DIY labs) are as safe and secure as possible, while acknowledging that we cannot eliminate the risk entirely. Since DIYbio labs are growing in number and undertaking increasingly sophisticated research, they seem to us like a good target for efforts to strengthen biosafety and biosecurity measures.
- Mr. Grushkin and Dr. Kuiken seem to us like good candidates to do this work. Our impression is that they both care about biosafety and biosecurity, are well-connected to the DIYbio community, and have experience working in this area. Mr. Grushkin is the Executive Director of Genspace, and Dr. Kuiken serves on the International Genetically Engineered Machine Foundation (iGEM) Safety Committee and is a Senior Research Scholar at the Genetic Engineering & Society Center at North Carolina State University.
- We are not aware of much other work in this area. There is a lack of basic information on how many DIYbio labs exist and what work is being done there, and we are not aware of any existing guidance for DIYbio labs on how to approach biosafety and biosecurity.