Minima is a simple kit that allows anyone to detect DNA sequences in their kitchen at home. We think that this kit has the potential to change the way people think about their food and about biotechnology. Our goal is to demystify and democratize DNA, making it something that everyone can touch and understand.
Biotechnology is advancing, and many of the most important advances focus on the science of DNA. It makes sense to put DNA at the center of biotech, because DNA contains the basic information of life, the basic instructions of building every living thing. Every time scientists discover a new way to read DNA, or a way to edit or write DNA, it changes the way that we relate to the natural world.
With that in mind we chose to focus on one new technology that was the most exciting to our scientific collaborators: Isothermal DNA Amplification. (See Scientific context)
We imagined a scenario where we could develop a more intimate relationship to our food. As a curious explorators, we could discover multiple informations hidden in your favorite ingredient, by asking it questions. Depending what we want to test, we can purchase different enzyme boxes. Each box is like a question : what is the origin of my product ? are some bacterias present in it ? Was it genetically transformed ?
In the box, we find enzyme mix tubes that could be possible answers to these questions.
There are many powerful scientific methods that are constrained to the lab because they require expensive equipment and lots of training to perform. Isothermal amplification is not one of those, but because it is a relatively new technology, there doesn’t exist a set of specialized tools to support it.
For example, the machine that we use to control the DNA temperature costs at least 2000 US dollars. Obviously, this is not something that can move out of the lab and into the field or into the home ; and these tools provide much more functionality than we need for the basic isothermal protocol.
We wanted to create the cheapest, most low-tech, most user-friendly version of isothermal amplification that we possibly could. No electronics, no electricity, no moving parts, no waste. The more that we can make this procedure cheap and easy to use, the more different people and places can make use of it.
Minima is composed of a simple range of ceramic, glass and metal objects. We chose these objects to challenge the usual vision of a scientific method. Nothing here is white, sterilized or clinical. Instead, we wanted things to feel soft and warm. The precision of scientific practice is invoked by materials that are beautiful and precious. These are objects that you want to handle carefully. It is a reminder that the procedure you are about to undertake requires special care.
The raw materials and the flame of the candle evoke, in a way, how science started: experimenting with the humblest elements. They also require no electricity, freeing the user from the power grid.
We are proud that Minima is a fully functional kit, that really works right now today to detect DNA sequences. But our goal with this kit was not only to make isothermal amplification cheaper and easier to use : the real mission of the Biodesign Challenge is to reimagine the way that people interact with biotechnology. With the Minima kit, we imagine a world where DNA is a part of every home.
What if every kitchen had a microwave, an oven, and a DNA detector? What if DNA was just another spice, like salt and pepper? In that world, millions of people would have an informed opinion in biotechnology. They would be empowered to decide what DNA technologies are used for and who gets to use them. The goal of Minima is to make biology comfortable, accessible and intuitive.