How hobbyist, homebrewers, and citizen scientists use the Pioreactor in their work

As a result of recent advancements in biotech (mRNA vaccines, cellular agriculture), and the falling cost of biology tools (cost of DNA sequencing falling 10⁷x, open source software, protein databases), it's now more possible than ever for non-professionals to practice biology. There is actually a positive-feedback loop here, too. For example, when computers became accessible enough, there was an explosion in accessibility tools that drove even higher adoption of computers. It's undebatable that the web we have today, the recent progress in machine learning, and the speed-per-dollar of computers today is a result of this feedback loop.

Fortunately, the same thing is happening in biology (albeit at a slower rate). Interest in biology-as-a-hobby is increasing, and with that, more and more tools are developed to make biology more accessible (hey - that sounds like Pioreactor's goal!). Tools like FieldKit, Foldscope, Openflex, and others are making the necessary scientific hardware for citizen scientists and hobbyists. And user-friendly software, for example Benchling, Mycodo, Addgene, and UniProt, make the important connection between the computer-world and the biological world. 

We designed Pioreactor to be a part of this new movement to make biology accessible. 

  • affordable: the Pioreactor has an excellent utility / price ratio. 
  • local storage: the data is stored locally on the Raspberry Pi, therefore it's always accessible and has no "cloud" subscription cost. 
  • customizable: the Pioreactor software is open source, and we have exposed additional input-output and features for advanced usage. 

Below are some examples of using the Pioreactor by hobbyists:

Evolving novel microbes at home

One of my personal goals was to develop a naturally high-alcohol beer. Yeast health declines as ethanol concentration increases, so there is a limit to how high of an ethanol concentration a beer can achieve. One solution to this problem is to evolve a yeast to be more alcohol tolerant. Using a technique like directed evolution is a simple and fast way to achieve this. 

Tracking when a sample is in its growth phase

A useful trick to get plasmids into yeast is to shock the yeast when they are stress-free and in their exponential phase, usually determined by a window of OD600 values. Even with a spectrophotometer (which are very expensive), it's possible that you could miss when this phase occurs. This is trivial to measure growth phases in a Pioreactor. 

Fermentation and homebrew

Tracking the progress of vegetable lacto-ferments

The Pioreactor set up as an inline sensor. Liquid flows from the lacto-ferment, to the Pioreactor, and back again.

The Pioreactor can be used to monitor the bacterial density and growth of lacto-ferments. This is done by using the Pioreactor as an inline sensor, with the help of two peristaltic pumps. Tracking the bacterial density gives you information about the state of the ferment, and by pairing multiple Pioreactors together, you can experiment with different fermentation parameters. 


Using the Pioreactor in the home yeast lab

A homebrewer can use the Pioreactor to understand lag and growth times in their yeast, test yeast viability in different environments, or even track your starter culture by using the Pioreactor as an inline sensor