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Noah Most wins Watson to visit “Bio-garages”

By Silvia Foster-Frau

Those participating in the do-it-yourself (DIY) movement in synthetic biology are referred to as bio-hackers, citizen-scientists, DIY biologists, and even life-hackers. The sheer quantity of slang words indicates this field is trendy and cutting-edge science. Noah Most ’13 received a Watson Fellowship to travel internationally to some of the few bio-garages in the world in order to become one of these “bio-hacking” scientists.

The Watson Fellowship is a one-year grant awarded to a graduating college senior. Forty students in participating institutions across the nation are selected and given a $25,000 stipend in order to pursue their international independent study project.

“The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship offers college graduates of ‘unusual promise’ a year of independent, purposeful exploration and travel in international settings new to them,” reads its mission statement.

Photograph by Saw Min Maw.

Most was recognized by the Fellowship for his accomplishments at Grinnell, which include co-manager of SEG, a coordinator for Altbreak and lab services coordinator for ITS. He is a General Science-Biology and Economics major. His student initiatives to fix the printers are currently being implemented and he has also performed research at several institutions.

Most’s independent study project is entitled “Do-It-Yourself Biology: Innovation, Social Implications, and the Inversion of Research Paradigms.” The project focuses on synthetic biology, a science in which organisms are engineered to perform unprecedented, unnatural functions.

“We are getting to the point where we can essentially program life,” Most said.

Most said an example of this science of the future is genetically engineering goats that produce spider silk in their milk.

“[Do-It-Yourself biology is] a radical movement to try to democratize synthetic biology as a science,” Most said. “Anyone can explore them, essentially do them in their basement and tinker around, perform genetic engineering and hopefully, innovate.”

Innovation is key to Most’s project and to the field of DIY biology. Most will be traveling to four or five community bio-garages around the world where DIY biology is performed.

“Bio-garages are spaces in which do-it-yourself biologists are providing the infrastructure for people to learn about the science and to explore it,” Most said. “I’ll be going to the UK, Canada, India and Singapore. So I’ll be on the forefront of this really brand new movement. If you look at how many bio-garages there are in the world… there are only a handful because this is so new, so radical. That’s why I was really interested in it. I really like the cusp of the cusp. What’s new, what’s happening: what I think could be a productive avenue for entrepreneurship.”

Most plans to initially go to two established bio-garages to learn the science in synthetic biology and then to travel to two or three lesser established ones to build up the community and movement, tapping into his entrepreneurial interests. He hopes to learn much about himself and much about the world, including controversial ethical issues.

The focus of his Watson Fellowship project is along similar lines to his occupational aspirations.

“I’m interested in, first and foremost, where biology and entrepreneurship intersect, and how that will look in twenty years,” Most said. “I would love to found a startup one day; that would be mind-blowing.”

Most referenced Bill Gates’ assertion that DIY biology is at the forefront of technology.

He said he is excited to be starting with biological molecules in his innovative DIY biology project.

“I’m really honored to have the opportunity to explore exactly what I want to explore for a year,” he said.


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