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Community Biology Lab Opens In La Jolla Library

Volunteers teach kids how to extract DNA from strawberries at a La Jolla public library, Sept. 1 2015.

Aired 9/2/15 on KPBS News.

Patrons of a local public library can check out more than books — a new community lab now lets them check out DNA too.

Patrons of a local public library can check out more than books — a new community lab now lets them check out DNA, too.

The biosafety level one lab is nestled inside La Jolla's Riford Library. It aims to spark the public's interest in biology by giving them access to DNA amplifying machines, microscopes and other basic equipment.

At a launch event Tuesday, Mayor Kevin Faulconer and other local officials were present to see school children busily extracting DNA from strawberries. Laura Jordan-Smith of The Wet Lab, a San Diego group helping run the library's facility, hopes demos like this will get kids interested in a career in science.

"They're going to be looking at how we actually separate fragments of DNA to learn about the genetic code and do all kinds of other advanced experiments," she said.

Faulconer said getting kids interested in science early could help San Diego's economy in the long-run.

"Our city is a leader in innovation," he said. "It's important to offer these tools and help people get engaged at the very beginning."

Do-it-yourself biology labs have been cropping up across the country. The Wet Lab maintains one downtown where paying members can gain access to more advanced equipment. But Jordan-Smith says its unusual to have a lab like this inside a public library open to people of all ages.

"It's completely free to the public," she said. "When they get more interested and want to take on their own projects, then they can go to our lab space downtown where we can run some longer-term projects."

The library plans to keep the lab open regularly, as long as there's a trained volunteer on site to make sure people are using equipment safely.

Jason Bobe, who co-founded DIYbio.org to track and promote citizen biology labs, is happy to see a library and and a DIY biology group join forces.

"Improving public literacy around all things biology is critical for an informed citizenry," he wrote in an email to KPBS. "Community labs and libraries share this mission in common, so it's inspiring to me that the two would come together."

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