Ellen Jorgensen is at the leading edge of the do-it-yourself biotechnology movement, which brings scientific exploration and understanding to the masses.
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 Jorgenson takes us along on a trip to Alaska to bar-code plants >>
“The press had a tendency to consistently overestimate [biohackers'] capabilities and underestimate our ethics.”
“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.”
“[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.”
“You might be asking yourself, ‘What would I do in a biolab?’ Well, it wasn't that long ago we were asking, ‘What would anyone do with a personal computer?’”