DIYBio Community Laboratories

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La Paillasse, Paris

Morgan Meyer:

"An example of a community laboratory is the association called La Paillasse which was established in Paris by Thomas Landrain, a PhD student at the Institute for Systems and Synthetic Biology. La Paillasse describes itself as “a physical and web platform for citizen scientists, amateur biologists, researchers and entrepreneurs that fosters open-science, debates and hands-on practice of Biotechnologies” and as “a group of passionate people about biology, each with his or her own area of expertise, interest and dedication”. Informally created in 2008 and officially launched in 2011, the association works in a “DIYbio spirit”, is “accessible to anybody” and aims for “very open, diverse and possibly opposed approaches to biology”. The mailing list of the association counts some 70 members of which there are 10 “core” people.

La Paillasse is currently located in two spaces. The first one is “totally open” and is dedicated to discussions and projects “that don’t necessitate particular materials (computer projects, electronic projects or “light” biology for example)”. The second space, more regulated, contains machines and equipment for projects that are “more weighty”. The latter is based at the Electrolab at Nanterre (an area north east of Paris). If at the beginning of its history, the association only disposed of a very small surface (only a few square metres of a working bench in the Electrolab laboratory), since November 2011 La Paillasse occupies a real laboratory of 15 square meters. It was above all Génopôle, the prime institution for genetics research in France, and a former laboratory from the municipality of Paris that have donated scientific equipment to the lab, including centrifuges, fridges, a PCR machine, and shakers. But getting other material proves more difficult. One of the founding members of La Paillasseexplains: “We still lack consumables, enzymes, bacteria. I don’t knowhow we will get our material fromsuppliers, they are not used to dealwith associations. It’sthe unknown,we are the firstin France”. In terms of scientific tools, the association’s aims include “developing and distributing the tools needed to perform biological studies and experiments” and thereby to be “contributing to the international biohacker community by releasing our tools in an open source format”.

La Paillasse works on several projects: a bioethics workshop that aims to define the current limits of French and European legislation concerning the manipulation of biological and chemical samples and thereby “help La Paillasse to provide a legal framework for its experimental and social activities”; the construction of kits to detect GMOs in food; the creation of renewable energy from waste, bacteria and algae; projects to do with informatics, and so on. However, besides being a scientific project, La Paillasseis also explicitly a project with a political aim. One of the founders of the association argues: “Citizens must have in their hands a counter-power to participate in the societal choices concerning the use of these technologies”. (

More Information

"There are other examples of community laboratories worth to mention:

  • BioCurious, an association founded in 2009 by DIYbio near San Francisco which has leased and turned a 220-square-meter office into a laboratory (funded via Kickstarter);
  • BiologiGaragen, located in Copenhagen, “a laboratory and open creative space” that “will encourage citizen science in biology and make knowledge, tools and software available for people” and on whose website a call for donations of used scientific equipment is made (freezer, refrigerator, pH-sensors, incubator, etc.);
  • Genspace in Brooklin, New York, etc."