In order to get the public to embrace science, facilities and materials need to be accessible. Most everyone knows how to work a computer because a computer can be found at work, at home, even in a coat pocket. Biotechnology promoters are hoping to embrace computer science's model and prosper by making biotechnology more available to the public. By using cloud computing solutions, biotechnology labs are being designed that can be operated from almost anywhere in the world.
What are cloud labs?
A cloud lab is a lab that can be accessed via a computer using cloud-based technologies. The labs are operated by robotic equipment that follow the commands sent by the online user. Depending on the lab, the robot utilities are able to move materials, combine chemicals, and generally be programmed and designed to perform any function that a person could. The goal is for the online participant to use the cloud lab to perform experiments and produce results just as if they were actually there. When it comes to biotechnology, the users can experiment with biological materials that would not be available to them elsewhere.
Cloud labs in education
Ingmar Riedel-Kruse is an assistant bioengineering professor at Stanford. Riedel-Kruse told the Stanford Report that he believes the future to engaging students and researchers is interactive biotechnology. Riedel-Kruse and his team created a cloud lab for students to carry out remotely controlled experiments. Using biotic processing units and LEGOs, the Stanford team created a process where a group of students could remotely feed oatmeal to slime molds and record the path the mold took to reach the consumable oatmeal.
In the case study of interactive cloud experimentation published by Riedel-Kruse and his team, they outlined that the main goals of their project were to eliminate the barriers that keep people from pursuing biological experimentation. They found their interactive cloud lab encouraged participation, learning and discovery. This elimination of obstacles is not just relevant in the education world, but can be advantageous in other pursuits of biotechnology.
How biotechnology industry prospers from cloud labs
SynBioBeta, an online resource for the synthetic biology industry, reported in 2014 the number of new drugs being developed had steadily decreased in the past few years. One factor SynBioBeta suggested contributing to this decline is the lack of materials available to the biotech startup industry, leaving drug development in the hands of multinational corporations that might not see the benefits of innovation.
This is why SynBioBeta is intrigued by the introduction of the Emerald Cloud Lab. Emerald Therapeutics introduced its cloud lab this year and it is now open to all interested parties. The Emerald Cloud Lab allows biotech startups to remotely use the Emerald facility to test and develop new products. SynBioBeta suggested this lab, and others like it, will eliminate the two major obstacles facing biotechnology innovation: reproducibility and accessibility.
Cloud labs should increase the reproducibility of results due to the automated facilities having uniform parameters and nonvariance-prone robot workers. The lab will increase accessibility because it offers top of the line facilities to anyone with a computer connection and credit card. The lab may be used by small companies, startups or any amateur biologists that would like to perform a controlled biological experiment from the location of their choosing.