While it might seem like a strange (and potentially dangerous) hobby, amateur biotechnology research is on the rise.
Cathal Garvey has used some serious ingenuity and more than a little research to take on DIY Biotechnology in his quest to create necessary drugs for use in developing countries. And he wants to make them cheap, simple and scalable for production.
"To transform bacteria was once a huge deal," Garvey said. "Now you can do it with Epsom salt and an over-the-counter brand of laxatives."
Garvey, 26, decided to drop out of a PhD program at a cancer lab a couple of years ago and spent $4,000 to equip his own laboratory – in a bedroom at his parent's home in Cork, Ireland.
One of his first domestic experiments was trying to isolate bioluminescent bacteria from squid he bought on the docks in Cork.
Now Garvey is intent on making biological research an open-source, shoestring budget, undertaking.
Using freeware or open source software and databases like arXiv at Cornell University for his work, Garvey is now taking on the task of creating laboratory equipment which was once prohibitively expensive.
Even now, lab workers are using 3D printing to create their own custom equipment using their own designs. As it's a low-cost fabrication technique capable of creating objects in ceramic, polymer, and a variety of other materials, the technology is ideally suited to the purpose.
If you're in the market for a commercial centrifuge, you would, at least in the past, be prepared to shell out hundreds or perhaps thousands of dollars for a top-flight machine.
That's no longer the case as Garvey's DremelFuge can sit on your desk for little more than the cost of a high-speed Dremel tool and 3D printer materials.
DremelFuge, a printable rotor for centrifuging standard microcentrifuge tubes and miniprep columns, is outrageously cheap and works with industry standard 1.5ml/2ml Eppendorf/Microcentrifuge tubes.
Attached to a simple Dremel tool or its equivalent which spins at somewhere around 3000 RPM, the Dremelfuge can generate some major force. Garvey says it's enough to "comfortably spin down Miniprep samples." He says his device, if it doesn't spin out of control and fire a microcentrifuge tube through the leg of your jeans, can also achieve acceptable results at lower speeds.
According to Garvey, his creation, spinning at 10k rpm on a rotary tool, is more than powerful enough to spin down bacterial cells. He adds that a Dremel 300, used at its maximum speed of 33k rpm, can generate a force of over 50,000 times earth's gravity. That puts it into what's called "Ultracentrifuge" territory, and he adds his latest version of the device has indeed spun tubes at this speed.