The class is also deeply committed to the democratization of biotechnology; therefore, the materials of the class and experimental protocols are open source and available online. The “How to Grow (Almost) Anything” course was inspired by the philosophy of the MIT class by Professor Neil Gershenfeld called “How to Make (Almost) Anything." Through the many years that Professor Gershenfeld empowered students to express their creativity through fabrication tools such as 3D printers, laser cutters, and more, he discovered that personal fabrication tools are not for making products that people can buy in the supermarket, but rather to create things that make each individual unique! The goal for the “How to Grow Almost Anything” class is very similar in the sense that the class does not aim to convert students to become biologists, but rather to inspire students to use biotechnology as tools that could be combined with other disciplines to create something unique that traditional biologists would never think of.
When it comes to biotechnology, people usually think of crazy scientists creating zombies, GMOs, or bio-weapons—but that is the opposite of our class. One of the fundamental questions of the class is how might we do science with responsibility. This question has been discussed and reflected on throughout the semester. Further, the class promoted the culture of transparency in science, where all students must document every process and experiment done in the class to keep our biotech lesson accessible to people outside the class. Check out this website to see a little documentation of what my awesome teammates and I did in the class.
In a way, having a class like this is democratizing biotechnology for people across all walks of life, as the class not only accepted students from science backgrounds, but was also open to people with different interests and expertise; my fellow classmates are artists, designers, computer scientists, musicians, ethnographers, conservationists, and even beekeepers.
At the end of the semester, we had a chance to combine all the knowledge that we had learned from the amazing guest speakers and weekly lab experiments into a final project. Our "BioFluid Interfaces” group, including my teammates Judith Amores and Oscar Rosello, had a lot of fun working on the encapsulation of genetically engineered bacteria inside hand cream as the future of bio-computer technology on the body.
I believe that a class like this could become the model for biology in future classrooms, where students are empowered to use biology as a creative tool to bring their imagination to reality, with social responsibility in mind. As the founding director of the MIT Media Lab Nicholas Negroponte predicted: "Biotech is the new digital." The "How to Grow (Almost) Anything" class is the classroom that launches the new biological era of the Media Lab!