Andres Ochoa | Founder | SynTechBio

SynTechBio created the first Biohacker space in Latin America. Their online community Syntechbio (Community of 2000+ science lovers and tinkerers) began as a space for technological advances in Synthetic Biology and Biohacking. Their mission has always been to inspire and help to create a biohacker and a synthetic biology ecosystem in Latin America, as well as, support initiatives that improve access to this technology in the region. The physical space of their community was closed in 2015, which instead of being focused on space access in one country now is supporting all the Latin American region through the creation of the LATIN AMERICAN BIOHACKER SPACES NETWORK. Their Main Interest As Biohacker Space were Technologies to produce new materials and manufacturing processes using synthetic biology, Reverse bioinformatics (Computation in biological cells), Synthetic biology, Nanotechnology, Genomics, Astrobiology and Arts.

Tell me about yourself, the team you worked with to build Syntechbio and why did you build them?
I am the Founder and Director. My name is Andres Ochoa. My nickname is Don. Here is more info about me.
I have PhD in Biotechnology. While a PhD student I got involved in the iGEM competition and after that I got support from the laboratory of my Advisor (GaTE-Lab) in the University of Sao Paulo to open a Biohacker Space. It began as an experiment inside the São Paulo University, with the goal to accelerate the training of students in the synthetic biology area, to enhance multidisciplinary, and create an open-space to develop and share ideas that wouldn't be normally supported by the academic community in a research context. These ideas were embedded in an educational context, where the creation is a free process and the goal was the building of skills and creativity. 

After opening the first Biohacker space in Latin America (São Paulo - Brazil in 2012), our community has supported other initiatives in the region, enhancing the communication and action of the community as a group. This led to the creation of the Latin American Network of Biohacker Spaces. The physical space of our biohacker space was closed in 2015, now our community is supporting the entire Latin American region through the creation of the Network, instead of focusing on space access in just one country.

Was building the Syntechbio community hard? Who is/was part of the community?
We were people that had worked before in iGEM projects, so we already have some experience on doing projects out of the common laboratory mindset. At the beginning, the group was composed by students of the University but it was open to all the community because the São Paulo university is a public university.

After the closing of the physical space, with the creation of the network came a new team of people, each one located in different countries of Latin America. All of them also have or are in the process or creating Biohacker Spaces in their regions. We have members and coordinators. The coordinators of the network and their spaces are hubs of biohacking in their regions

Joel de la Barrera B. (a.k.a Billy) - Mexico. 
Manuel Giménez - Argentina.
Pierre Padilla - Peru.
Sofia Arreola - Mexico. 

The network already includes the groups from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Peru, and it is expanding through the region. The network has two international advisors with broad experience in building Biohacker Spaces, Maria Chavez from Biocurious and Ryan Bethencourt from IndieBio-SF.  
What types of projects have you and the Syntechbio team worked on?
As a Bioacker space, our goal was to automate genetic engineering processes and help in the democratization of this technology. Democratization in this context means creating tools to break down the complexity and cost of the process, allowing these new types of materials/manufacturing processes to become available to the public/industry in general.

Our main projects were related to functional screening techniques to help in the discovery and standardization of biological parts (plant promoters and extremophiles genes) for use in synthetic biology, as well as, molecular automation (Plug&Play project) and education through iGEM participation support. If you want more info about our projects, is in here!our-history/r8w2z

More recently we did the first open source thermocycler of Latin America in collaboration with a maker space

How did you find the space and funding?

The involvement in the iGEM competition of the GaTE-Lab made them understand the potential of the open science. They supported the initial biohacker space with physical space, equipment and mentorship. We got some funding for reagents from projects we submitted to funding organizations in Brazil. 

What types of equipment did you find you needed and what were the challenges you encountered?

We used the common equipment that you need for growing bacteria, transform it with plasmids, extract DNA and analyze the results. We got into projects with plants and extremophiles which were more challenging.

What do you see as the future for biohacking in Latin America and globally?

Our online community of 2000+ science lovers and tinkerers is a space for technological advances in DIY-Bio, Synthetic Biology and Biohacking. Our mission is to inspire and help to create a biohacker and a synthetic biology ecosystem in Latin America, as well as, support initiatives that improve access to this technology in the region. We believe that biological engineering will power the technological revolution that will help us to make a better world.