Shuttleworth Fellow working on an open and equitable Bioeconomy.
Q 1. Do you have experience with open hardware PCR machines? We'd like to make them in future workshops, though we don't have a clear date at this time.
A. A little yes, https://gaudishop.ch/index.php/product/pocketpcr-kit/ is probably the best I've seen for a small and portable device. What is your goal with the workshops? There are some other technologies that are as powerful as PCR for diagnostics etc but do not require the thermocycling.
Q. 2. We have some initial work on polylactic acid polymerization, so if we had more access to subject matter experts (SMEs) on the topic, we would like to synthesize PLA for 3D printing. We have initial bioreactor and process designs at https://wiki.opensourceecology.org/wiki/Polylactic_acid. If you know any open source SMEs on this, please send them our way.
A. I don't know of SMEs but I know Joshua Pearce has a project on this as we are collaborating on him with our 1.5 L open source bioreactor (next wave of documentation is coming online in next week or so - we are a bit behind!)
Q. 3. Can you fill me in on the limits to PCR tests for COVID? I understand that everything is in short supply, but we did consider setting up a clean lab here to do the actual tests, while using open source thermocyclers. Are there master mixes and primers available readily, or are these all rationed at this time, therefore impossible to scale to the large numbers of tests needed? I lookes at the ones sanctioned by the US gummit, but I was wondering how we can hack the shortage by using widely available supplies, or making the reagents ourselves by going to a lower lever of the supply chain. Have you thought of mass deployment of open source testing protocols, so that we could encourage distributed involvement in testing? I was thinking about PCR tests that could be done for a dollar if we have trained volunteers.
A. It depends, there are shortages of the approved kits, if you are able to get a lab-developed test through regulation then you have more options but it is difficult to do that currently. Important though because a bad diagnostic can be worse than no diagnostic and lead to people getting the wrong treatment or infecting others if they wrongly think they are negative. For that reason I'm not working on a mass deployment of open source protocols but I am working to get open source DNA for the enzymes and protocols widely available for a variety of labs to share protocols (inc four national COVID testing centres in Africa/Latam). We have a community getting off the ground here: https://reclone.org/