Bento Lab is a DNA analysis laboratory created by Bethan Wolfenden and Philipp Boeing. The duo are currently in their first production run of the first affordable DNA laboratory after it successfully passed beta testing. With backgrounds in Biochemistry and Computer Science they are seeking to bring DNA testing into the public sector, allowing anyone to conduct their own simple DNA analysis with the use of the lab.
The beauty of the design is its compact size and accessibility. With the lab measuring no more than the average size of a laptop, you could literally take your lab with you. This is a game changer for the world of science. As someone that last conducted a scientific experiment in secondary school, the world of laboratories, DNA testing and white coats has seemed a very closed of and inaccessible space, one reserved for only the highly intellectual. Bento Lab brings this world into everyday accessibility. With the rise of makers spaces, DIY and opensource we are seeing a transition from these disciplines being reserved for the technically trained to an open space for collaboration and cross disciplinary work. The more transparency we see through these sectors the greater chance for public engagement and understanding, potentially leading to the possibility of a more inclusive community.
Citizen science and the maker movement was an important source of inspiration for Bethan and Philipp, who were running hands-on biotechnology workshops in schools and community centers and were becoming frustrated at the lack of accessible hardware for these events. After taking an initial mock-up of the lab to a maker festival in Rome in 2013 and receiving positive feedback they realized this concept had depth and needed to be scaled, bringing the use of a DNA laboratory to the many.
As in keeping with the accessibility this lab will bring to science, a proportion of the funding they raised for their first production run was via Kickstarter. Running this campaign meant that the public and educational institutions could donate to the cause, or pre-order their own Bento Lab.
What is Bento Lab exactly?
‘Bento Lab is the first complete DNA laboratory, suitable for a beginner to a professional. It comes with a PCR thermocycler, a centrifuge and a gel electrophoresis box and power supply with blue LED transillumination – all controlled by an intuitive interface. And with an A4 footprint that fits into any laptop-sized bag, Bento Lab can travel wherever your science goes.’
For our first #openhouse of 2018 we welcomed our fellow urban agricultural mavericks into the lab to hear how urban ag is impacting cities and communities around the globe. With urbanisation on the rise and our growing concerns for the current food systems in place we are seeing technology set to play a larger role. With this increasing move from countryside to city our relationships to our food sources are becoming jeopardised and as a result people are turning their hand to growing for themselves, finding unique and smart ways to grow within the city. We heard from our green fingered friends in New York and Shanghai, discussing how our cities are growing for the future and how small change is taking place across the globe.
We heard from Agritecture – an urban agriculture consultancy based in New York and we also spoke to AgTech X, a makers space based in Brooklyn creating opportunities and space for designers and makers to build an urban agriculture community.
Henry Gordon-Smith, Founder of Agritecture, showed us different examples of urban agriculture throughout the city, ranging from low tech community based projects to high tech commercial ventures.
We looked at case studies of these different typologies, focusing on 5 New York based projects:
Edenworks – a commercial vertical aquaponic growing system.
Each of these examples have varying levels of success and Henry discussed the urban agriculture impact categories that they measure projects against – looking at success more holistically and how it impacts not only on an economic level. The categories we looked at are:
Aesthetics – does it attract people? Is it an enjoyable experience?
Social – does the farm engage the community? does it improve food justice and equality?
Economic – How much yield does the farm producer? does it create jobs and revenue?
Ecological – does it encourage biodiversity? does it help to manage rain and storm water
Health – Is it providing fresh food for those that need it? Is it providing stress relief and a sanctuary from urban living?
It was a comforting insight to hear that not everyone measures success on ‘growth’ and that sometimes the project with the most impact are not the most economically minded.
The discussion of low tech versus high tech urban farming was another interesting point. With many people joining the urban agriculture movement keen to use high tech smart methods, such as hydroponics, aquaponics and aeroponics, soil based farming can often be overlooked, despite it’s many benefits. Whilst high tech farming and controlled growing environments can result in food security and utilise precious space these methods take time to perfect and the energy consumption can be huge. They also may not provide the local community with sometimes much needed jobs and the biodiversity we all need to bring back to our cities.
We also heard from Ricky Stephens, co-founder of AgTech X, a co-working space focused on the intersection of urban agriculture, technology and sustainability. Based in Brooklyn, AgTech X is creating a working community space that also runs classes and workshop for the public to engage with. As we are finding with Green Lab it is becoming increasingly important for these spaces to exist, not only as a space for play, test and experiment with new ideas, but also to create a dialogue between the local community and those working and growing within the city. Green Lab and AgTech X are facing similar hurdles in sustaining this concept, looking for a permanent space where the ideas can grow and for that all important funding to sustain the project.
We also heard from Andy Garcia – a product design engineer and founder of Domosfarms – based in Shanghai.
Whilst New York has been a big player in the urban agriculture scene from the beginning we hadn’t heard much in the way of China’s involvement and Andy gave us an interesting insight into the urban ag community developing in shanghai and also the general agricultural issues that China is currently facing.
When Andy first moved to shanghai 8 months ago he found that he not only couldn’t drink the tap water but he couldn’t cook with it due to the heavy metals found in the water. These heavy metals are a result of china’s mining and processing industries. These metals cant be filtered by the body, resulting in an increased chance of cancer and disease when consumed. Not only are these heavy metals found within the water systems but also within the food grown and produced.
With this concern Andy was keen to start producing his own food and he started to build his first hydroponics system. With the success of his first system he garnered interest from others keen to produce their own food and is now in the process of creating two open source projects for those wishing to build their own hydroponic systems and produce their own food.
China came quite late to the urban agriculture movement, with neighboring countries of Japan and Korea way ahead of them. this was partly due to their large agriculture industry producing plenty of food but in recent years, with increased urbanisation and fears of both food security and food safety the need to explore urban agriculture has increased.
The safety of the food produced has come into question, with the entire food system now possibly contaminated from China’s industries people are now demanding safer food.
China is addressing this problem by investing in land all over the world, having brought areas in Africa, America and Australia. They are also looking to architectural developments to solve their problems with a current project being built on the outskirts of Shanghai. Sunqiao Urban Agricultural District is being developed to include vertical farming systems such as hydroponics and aquaculture, whilst also providing research and public outreach to the community.
Our next #openhouse will be on Thursday 22nd February, make sure you sign up here.
Scoville is the scale of measurement of the pungency (spicy heat) of chili peppers. Mhz is what Green Lab are using to measure the effectiveness of our chilli aquaponic system, 30Mhz.
Located in one of our 24 demo bays is a small scale aquaponic system, home to two bonito chilli plants, two red comets and a host of 30Mhz sensors. The sensors are tracking (in real-time) the humidity, temperature, leaf temp and light intensity of the growing environment, providing the Green Lab team with insight into the growing cycle.
Data from the sensors can be viewed in a real-time web and mobile dashboard giving the Green Lab team access to critical environmental data; sensor units are also battery powered, making them very portable and also waterproof. We like.
Over the coming months we’ll be adding pH and CO2 sensors as part of a year long pilot to embedd the 30Mhz sensor technology into a variety of lab projects; aquaponic, hydroponic, insects and algae.
30MHz believes that with technology and data, organizations of any size can innovate to become more efficient, sustainable and cost-effective. Using easy to deploy wireless sensors, we’re empowering businesses to turn metrics captured from the physical world into actionable insights at industry-scale.
With the 30MHz Toolkit, we’re lowering the barrier to entry to industrial sensor technology. Our scalable and interoperable plug-and-play solution is designed for quick roll-out of sensors in the hundreds of thousands, and our dashboard makes data monitoring simple and user-friendly from any device.
It could almost be a new wave millennial pop group, but Entocycle, winner of the 2016 Mass Challenge Platinum Award have joined the growing number of early stage startups in Green Lab.
Entocycle are an innovative feed company developing an advanced and food sustainable system using black soldier fly to transform organic waste from farmers, food processors and wholesalers into multiple valuable products, surpassing current waste processing alternatives.
Black Soldier Fly
Organic waste inflicts a host of environmental impacts, including unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions and inefficient use of water and land. One-third of all food produced worldwide, worth around US$1 trillion, gets lost or wasted in food production and consumption systems. By utilising the power of Hermetia illucens (Black Soldier Fly) to ‘up-cycle’ organic food waste into a sustainable protein feed, Entocycle are developing alternative and sustainable food systems for aquaculture and livestock.
“…urban areas like London are the biggest consumers of agriculture products yet they have absolutely no agricultural production. Places like Green Lab create a hub for agritech businesses in the heart of London. Green Lab is providing us with the great opportunity to boost our developments by sharing complementary knowledge with other agri-tech start-ups and by allowing us to successfully validate our technology whilst showcasing our prototype to investors and the community…”
Keiran Whitaker, Founder Entocycle
The team at Green Lab are very excited at the prospect of integrating Entocycle systems and processes into our aquaculture growing systems with trout and leafy greens. We’ll be publishing more over the coming weeks as the systems are developed.
Green Lab, London’s first incubator workspace for sustainable urban farming entrepreneurs and ‘agritech’ startup businesses opens its doors on the 22nd June, in an effort to create a new city community for sustainable food innovators in the capital and country’s growing £14 billion agri-tech sector.
Green Lab occupies a temporary space in Bermondsey, South London within 3Space, an urban regeneration charity.
Green Lab offers a collaborative and affordable studio environment, wet lab facilities, bio lab, growing spaces, access to a making workshop, an event space – and access to a network of experienced mentors and investors.
True to its mission, the lab itself has been designed and built using recycled salvage from a local theatre company, decomissioned biolabs and wood from art freight containers.
Green Lab is a place is for individuals to design, prototype and pilot food production systems, processes and agricultural technologies that can be taken from a bench-scale trial to achieve local and even worldwide impact.
Green Lab is already home to innovators working in aquaculture, lighting systems and alternative food sources. New businesses taking up space will join a growing community of social entrepreneurs who are expert in the field of sustainable food provision. There is enough space at the lab for 12 new businesses, occupying benches/desks on a residency basis with access to the community and facilities.
Andrew Gregson, the founder of Green Lab, said the inspiration to start the lab came from a series of visits he made to Valldaura, a self-sufficient habitat in Barcelona, as well as visits to Kew Gardens, one of the world’s oldest and best-known botanical education facilities.
Gregson, who previously co-founded Fab Lab London, an education and training facility for the capital’s ‘maker’ community, said: “I wanted to create a new creative workspace in London that blended traditional agriculture principles with tech innovation, in a bid to help grow sustainable new food businesses.
“Green Lab provides an opportunity to design sustainable food systems, with access to high-end technologies. We have designed a space that sits at the intersection of great design, technology, science and agriculture.”
Occupying two floors,Green Lab has a unique offer for startups:
• Affordable studio space to incubate early-stage sustainable agricultural & food startups.
• Workshop with hand tools, 3D printer, vinyl cutter, pillar drill and electronics bench
• A vibrant 150 sq.m event space with adjoining kitchen
• 24 bays to showcase examples of agricultural food systems in practice: aquaculture, hydroponics, algae, insects and fermentation
• Fast WiFi and fixed internet access with secure storage for projects
• Wet lab to prototype and experiment with larger installations of agritech and urban farming projects
• Access to a specialist mentor and investor network focused purely on agriculture and urban farming
Green Lab opens its doors to the public from 2pm on Thursday 22nd June to showcase the facilities and the startups based there.
We offer affordable lab space and workspace to incubate early stage new food-based initiatives and business. Our curated residencies provide access to the Green Lab, the team and all of our network. It's a place to scale an idea beyond your proof of concept.