Ellen Jorgensen is at the leading edge of the do-it-yourself biotechnology movement, which brings scientific exploration and understanding to the masses.

Why you should listen

After many years of working as a molecular biologist in the biotechnology industry, Ellen Jorgensen needed a change. So, in 2009, bolstered by her belief in public science literacy, education, and outreach, together with TED Fellow Oliver Medvedik, she founded Genspace, the world’s first government-compliant DIY biotech lab.

Despite criticism that some research should be left to the experts, the Brooklyn-based lab continues to thrive. Amateur and professional scientists conduct award-winning research there on projects as diverse as identifying microbes that live in Earth’s atmosphere and (Jorgensen's own pet project) DNA-barcoding plants from Alaska, to distinguish between species that look alike but may not be closely related evolutionarily.

Video: Ellen Jorgensen takes us along on a trip to Alaska to bar-code plants >>  

Video: At Jorgensen's Genspace lab, artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg produces portraits from the DNA in a single hair >>

Video: At Genspace, Oliver Medvedik shows a cool experiment (you can do at home) with strawberry DNA >>

What others say

“Ellen Jorgensen is helping to democratize biology—making it less the purview of academics and Big Pharma and more an enterprise accessible to anyone who wants a hands-on scientific experience.” — Discover Magazine, October 2011

Ellen Jorgensen’s TED talks

Ellen Jorgensen on the TED Blog
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Ideas

Exclusive video: How to make a cocktail from strawberry DNA

December 20, 2013

DNA. It’s what encodes the genetic material of every living thing. And it also makes a yummy cocktail. This video, which stars TED Fellow synthetic biologist Oliver Medvedik, shows you how to make a delicious adult beverage out of frozen strawberries, pineapple juice and Bacardi 151. Follow the adorably animated instructions, and you’ll be able […]

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Gallery

A biologist, an engineer, a designer and a musical robot builder walk into a room. Not a joke; it’s their office

December 19, 2013

Listen to too much talk about innovation, and before long you’re bound to hear someone utter the “cross” word. It might be followed by “fertilization,” maybe “pollination,” perhaps even “disciplinary,” but the sharing of ideas with unlike-minded people is a hot topic, the holy grail of wannabe world-changers. After all, the thinking goes, working with […]

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Art

A portrait of you from a single hair: The work of Heather Dewey-Hagborg

June 20, 2013

The video “DNA Portrait,” above, is a lovely short documentary shot by TED’s own Kari Mulholland. It features the work of the artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg, who spent time collecting hairs shed in public spaces… and then sequencing the DNA therein to print 3D sculptures of what those hairs’ owners might look like. Whoa. The film […]

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Quotes from Ellen Jorgensen

The press had a tendency to consistently overestimate [biohackers'] capabilities and underestimate our ethics.
Ellen Jorgensen
TEDGlobal 2012 • 983K views Jan 2013
Inspiring, Fascinating
DIY [biotech] people from all over the world … got together last year, and we hammered out a common code of ethics. That's a lot more than conventional science has done.
Ellen Jorgensen
TEDGlobal 2012 • 983K views Jan 2013
Inspiring, Fascinating
[In a DIY bio lab,] you can work on a project and you don't have to justify to anyone that it's going to make a lot of money, that it's going to save mankind, or even that it's feasible.
Ellen Jorgensen
TEDGlobal 2012 • 983K views Jan 2013
Inspiring, Fascinating