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Frequently Asked Questions

Biological/Genetic Engineering is an interdisciplinary area focusing on the application of engineering principles to biological systems in order to solve problems in the realm of sustainable food, materials, energy, and health. 

Similar to miniature factories, bacteria follow DNA programming that has been inserted into their "bodies" through genetic engineering and create products in response. Each bacterium produces a small quantity of the product which, when cultivated in large vessels, create significant amounts of pigments, medicine, plastic compounds, etc, that can be extracted and used by industries and individuals. As bacteria multiply rapidly and easily when fed sugars and kept in a controlled environment, creating products through genetic/biological engineering is sustainable and safe.

Thanks to the hard work of scientists around the world, programming DNA is improving our quality of life and keeping diseases at bay. Already in the hands of hundreds of millions of people each day, the number of genetically engineered products will continue to rise in the future. And now, you too can program bacteria! Amino Labs Kits have everything you need to bioengineer for the first time or the hundredth! 

By getting hands-on experience with genetic engineering and biotechnology, you will become immersed in some of the most cutting-edge science of the 21st century. Find out more hands-on and in more details by completing our Virtual Bioengineer online simulations.

You can also read more about bioengineering, Genetic engineering and biohacking in this blog post

Learning and prototyping with genetic engineering and cells is starting to become accessible to newcomers of all ages and backgrounds thanks to dedicated scientists and kits such as the one you are about to use! The easiest way to learn a new science, hobby or topic is by trying it, hands-on.Our Amino Labs Kits make it easy to add a DNA program into living cells by following the instructions in this booklet and by using videos on Amino Labs' Youtube channel

Everything you need to complete the science in included; each ingredient in the kit is pre-measured and labelled for a stress-free experience. Our all-in-one stations decrease, setup time, mess, guesswork and the need to collect and calibrate multiple machines. The instructions are easy-to-follow for non-scientists and scientists alike.

An important addition to our ecosystem is our Virtual Bioengineer™ simulations developed with the educators at the Biobuilder Educational Foundation. Free 20 minutes guided experiences virtually replicates the hands-on procedures you will soon complete with your system. An easy way to practice using the DNA Playgrounds and Kits beforehand. Each simulator includes additional information on the manipulations, as well as deeper look into DNA and biological engineering. We recommend it strongly! Find the simulators here

Finally, the newest addition to our ecosystems is the Zero to Genetic Engineering Hero Beginner's book and lesson guides

The world's first beginner's guide to genetic engineering is here! With a combination of real-world, STEM hands-on activities and fundamental concepts, the Zero to Genetic Engineering Hero book has many levels of depth so you can choose how you want to learn. Are you a hands-on or visual learner? Each chapter starts with one (or more) hands-on exercise to get you familiar with the scientific concepts in the chapter. The second half is the "Fundamentals" section, which goes in-deep into the heart of the matter with examples, analogies, colored illustrations, diagrams, all the while linking back to the hands-on exercises, giving you that solid, practical knowledge you can use. See our blog article with in-depth details about the  Zero to Genetic Engineering Hero guide book and learning journey. 

With NGSS and Alberta curriculum alignment, our lesson guides developed by Mindfuel.ca (Alberta Science Foundation) make it easy for educators to implement hands-on student activities in the classroom based on the genetic engineering concepts presented in Amino Labs kits and their Zero to Genetic Engineering Hero Guide book.

Each lesson guide includes a variety of student activities such as hands-on experiments, virtual simulators, individual and group assignments, powerpoint presentations, worksheets and assessments with accompanying teacher keys. These covers: Discovering DNA, Genetic Engineering & Lab safety, (Free download - teach & practice safe science ☺︎) Growing and understanding E. Coli cells, and Genetic Engineering E. Coli cells with DNA Plasmids.  

Amino Lab's Experiment Kits make it easy to learn the fundamentals of growing, engineering and manipulating cells. For example, with the Engineer-it kit and many of the advanced kits, you can easily add a DNA program into living cells, grow and take care of those cells so that they can produce something for you—light, pigments, enzymes, materials, and more! 

All the components in the kits are pre-measured and labeled for ease-of-use. Illustrated manuals are available on our instruction manual page, and we also have follow-along videos on our Youtube channel. The kits can be combined to get an end-to-end bioengineering experience. You will find detailed information for each kit in the different sections of the manuals and the theory behind the experiments in the Zero to Genetic Engineering Hero book.

For example, here is an overview of how some of the kits work together: using an Engineer-it kit with a pigment-creating DNA program, a Keep-it Kit, and Extract-it you can:

  1. take a colour-generating DNA program (inspired by corals) and insert it into bacteria,
  2. amplify the bacteria to obtain a lot of pigment-producing bacteria, 
  3. extract and purify the pigments grown in the bacteria, getting rid of the bacteria
  4. now, you can paint or dye things with your bio-pigment!

Do-it-yourself biology (DIY biologyDIY bio) is a growing biotechnological social movement in which individuals, communities, and small organizations study biology and life science using the similar methods as traditional research institutions. Traditionally, DIY biology is undertaken by individuals with extensive research training from academia or corporations, who then mentor and oversee other DIY biologists with little or no formal training. This may be done as a hobby, as a not-for-profit endeavor for community learning and open-science innovation, or for profit, to start a business.  

With Amino Labs kits and tutorials, this need for a skilled mentor, which can be hard to find, has been removed; let the kits be your mentors!

The equipment needs depends on which of our kits you will be using... 

For the Canvas Kit to make living paintings (agar art) you need access to a microwave and a 37C incubator. Students can build one in class, you can use existing ones you may have, or you can forgo the incubator and grow the bacteria at room temperature, in which case the bacteria will not be as brightly color, but will still grow. 

For the Engineer-it kit (genetically engineer bacteria to make colors), the Smell-it kit (genetically engineer bacteria to make enzymatic reactions that smell), the Induce-it Kit (genetically engineer bacteria and control the genetic circuit with chemicals), the Heat-it kit (genetically engineer bacteria and control the genetic circuit with chemicals), you need access to a microwave, the 37C incubator, ice, a water bath or hot water and temperature that reaches 37C and 42C. We also have our own all-in one minilab, the DNA Playground, which covers all these. 

For the Extract-it kit (to extract the pigment colors of the engineered bacteria from the cells)  and the Blue-it kit (genetically engineer bacteria to make enzymatic reactions that does color-change) you need the same as above plus a micro-centrifuge that spins at at least 13,000 x g  

Cells are tiny living units that function like mini-factories. Bacteria are single-celled organisms. Individual bacteria can only be seen with a microscope, but they reproduce so rapidly that they often form colonies that we can see. Bacteria reproduce when one cell splits into two cells through a process called binary fission. Fission occurs rapidly, in as little as 20 minutes. Under perfect conditions a single bacterium could grow into over one billion bacteria in only 10 hours!

Each bacteria, or cell, is told how to use its factory-like capabilities by its DNA. DNA is like a computer program; it is the set of instructions that tells the cell(s) how to function. 

In this kit, you get a DNA plasmid (we will sometime refer to it as a DNA Program since it is an easier language to grasp). DNA plasmids are also a set of instructions for the cells, but much smaller—a plasmid only has a few functions, as opposed to the complete genome of the bacteria. Bacteria share vital information with each other by passing along plasmids. By inserting a new plasmid in our bacteria, we can get them to produce things for us. In the case of our Magenta Engineer-it Kit, the plasmid encodes for the creation of Magenta-coloured pigments.

Since DNA is a very hydrophilic molecule, it won’t normally pass through the bacteria's cell membrane. In order to make bacteria take in the plasmid, it must first be made “competent”. This means creating small holes in the bacterial cells by suspending them in a solution with a high concentration of calcium (the transformation buffer). DNA can then be forced into the cells by incubating the cells and the DNA together on ice, placing them briefly at 42°C (heat shock), and then putting them back on ice. This causes the bacteria to take in the DNA and is called “Transformation”. 

You will need to grow your bacteria on the nutrient agar petri dish (plates) before you insert the DNA plasmid. Freshly grown bacteria take up DNA much better than older ones since they are still in a growth phase. Nutrient agar is a jello-like staple food source for the bacteria which you will pour into the provided plates (petri dish) in the first step. Two types of agar will be made: non-selective and selective. The non-selective agar allows any bacteria to grow, while the selective agar has an antibiotic mixed in which allows only antibiotic-resistant bacteria to grow. The DNA plasmid you insert will make your bacteria antibiotic-resistant so that only those cells will grow. 

Specifically, your Engineer-it Kit will allow you to complete the following hands-on exercises to successfully achieve a bacterial transformation : 

1. Make selective and non-selective plates for growing bacteria.
2. Grow/streak K12 E. coli (to be used for DNA transformation)
3. Make K12 E. coli cells chemically competent (able to take up DNA plasmids)
4. Transform the competent cells with DNA program(s) (i.e. for generating colour pigments)
5. Recover and grow the transformed cells on plates

Try Virtual Bioengineer simulation to get a comprehensive understanding of how an Engineer-it Kit and DNA Playground work enable you to engineer cells. Watch some tutorials on Youtube.

If you don't have a DNA Playground, you will need to get:

  1. Ice and Ice Bucket
  2. Warm water bath (can be done using a bowl and manually setting water temperature)
  3. Thermometer
  4. Incubator to incubate cell and plates -- this needs hold 37C degrees. You can even make your own

See the full instructions in our instruction manuals

The Engineer-it Kit comes in Single User or Group User. It contains the same ingredients, in different quantities to allow the "Single" user the chance to engineer the bacteria twice, and the group to engineer 16 times (perfect for a class of 32 divided in groups of 2). 

The Individual Kit: The Engineer-it Kit™ "Individual" or "single" allows for 2 attempts at engineering bacteria with DNA Program provided. Try both simultaneously to maximize your chance of success, alone or with a friend. In the 2017 kits, you will find 4 petri plates in your kit. This means you can now try both attempts at once or keep one attempt for later, as a repeat experience.

The Group Kit: The Engineer-it Kit™ for groups allows for 16 attempts at engineering bacteria with a DNA Program. In a group of 16-32, we recommend pairing up the students. If 16 or less users are present, you can save up the ingredients for later use. The manuals contain the breakdown of the group kit per student. 

In North America, yes! Our kits are Biosafety Level 1 / Risk Group 1 which means they do not require special containment in North America. 

In Europe, however, there are different containment laws by country. Please check with your local authorities or find a local certified DIYBio space. You can start by looking here https://diybio.org/local/ 

Europe is well connected so you may want to take a weekend biohacking vacation to DIYbio spaces such as La Paillasse in Paris, MadLab in Manchester, London Biohackers in London, Waag Society in Amsterdam or many others. If you purchase a DNA Playground Starter Set, you can take it to one of these spaces and do the experiment! They'll probably love to join you!

We use lab-strain, non-pathogenic E.Coli bacteria. Many people hear of E. coli and think pathogen! In fact, most if not all humans have E. coli naturally occurring in our large intestines. E. coli is critical in helping to maintain gut health. About 100 years ago some E. coli was collected and was analysed in a lab. This "strain" was shared by more and more labs. Through that process, scientists, slightly modified the bacteria to make them more "lab friendly". One hundred years later, tens of thousands of labs have used "lab strains" of E. coli for research, biomanufacturing, and more! 

Lab strains of E. coli have modifications to them that make it virtually impossible for them to live in the environment, Amino Labs offers "K12 E. coli".

There are 2 timelines for running an Engineer-it Kit experiment: the 4-day recommended timeline, and the 3-day timeline.  Each timeline requires consecutive experiment days, but, in the instruction manual, you will also find a few tips and trick to modify the timeline should you need it. Have a look! 

You can find the recommended 4-day timeline follow-along video here and the 3 day timeline follow along video here.  

Enigneer-it kit for genetic engineering timeline

If you let the plates grow at room temperature for a week,. they will not overgrow! But growing at room temperature (and not 37C) will give you pastel versions of the color. In other words, the colors will not get as bright as if you incubate them at 37C, but they will still be beautiful. Have a look at the image below to see the difference in colors. Don't forget to place the petri dishes in a closed, resealable bag while they incubate at room temperature so that they don't dry out!  

In the refrigerator, they would unfortunately not grow - but you could use the refrigerator in another way: If you have a 37C incubator, you can incubate the painting palettes for 24 to 36 hours before spring break, and then pop them in a resealable bag or tupperware-style plastic container, place them in a refrigerator and that will keep them fresh for you to use with the students the following week (or many weeks later!) 

If you don't have an incubator, you can have a look at this simple tutorial on how to make a quick one with items from around the house or classroom. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LEsv0Qvbczs 

Image: Room Temperature incubation vs 37C incubation for the Canvas Kit bacteria paint. 

Absolutely! You can try to mix your colors during the pigment extractions. Of course, this might not be how scientists would do it in the lab (they would more than likely extract each color separately) but we've done it in our lab, and it can create some fun results, especially if you mix a non-fluorescent color with a fluorescent one! 

Have fun!

With the Individual size Keep-it kit, you can preserve up to 3x 6 cm petri dish. 6cm petri dish are the ones included in all Amino Labs experiment kit.  If you want to preserve the larger 10 cm petri dishes, we recommend 1 Keep-it kit per 10 cm petri dish. 

With the Group size Keep-it kit, you can preserve up to 8x more petri dishes than with the Individual kit. That means in one group kit you will receive 8 individual kits! So, up to 24x  6 cm petri dishes can be preserved. If you want to preserve the larger 10 cm petri dishes, you will be able to preserve 8 of them.  

Note that the kit comes with petri dish stands made for 6 cm petri dishes. If you are preserving 10 cm petri dishes, email us with your order number so we can swap out the stands for one to fit your larger petri dish!

In genetic engineering, practice makes perfect! Having even one engineered colony on your experiment plate is a success! Often times, one colony is all a scientist really needs to continue their experiment, so congratulations!

It is actually very likely that you will get more colonies next time, as your skills and understanding of each step of the experiment gets better. Another way to maximize your chances of getting a lot of engineered colonies is to leave your engineered cells to recover for as long as possible, up to the 24 hour mark. 

Finally, to get more colonies next time, you can also practice with these resources to really hone your skills and knowledge:

Try the Troubleshooting Guide!

Visit https://amino.bio/pages/success-guarantee

Here you can launch and use a simple application that will help you to identify what went wrong and get some insights into your experiment.

The DNA Playground™ is a simple and engaging science station that enables you to genetically engineer bacteria, and to incubate and grow your bacteria. Small, contained and safe, this station is a new bioengineer's must! Watch tutorial videos on Youtube to see it in action.

It can be used at home or by educators in schools as a personal and engaging alternative to traditional and messy lab equipment. With a class setup time of under 10 minutes, the station allows you to get started with your genetic and biological engineering right away! Each DNA Playground can do up to 4 simultaneous transformations and replaces the need for heated water baths, ice buckets and ice, incubator, timer and thermometers. It complements the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and is compatible with most bacterial transformation kits available on the market.  

Learn more here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sIRoQjqcLPg

A - The TouchscreenThe DNA Playground has a touchscreen that allows you to control the different system parts and let you know what's going on inside—you will see the temperature of each station in celcius. This data will help you make the most out of your experiment. B - The Cold StationTo transform bacteria you need to both keep certain ingredients “on ice” and to “ice” bacteria. We’ve replace the need for ice in the DNA Playground with tube coolers that reach a freezing temperature of 1-6°C when set to "ICE" on the touch screen.  The station can also be set to ~16°C when using "COOL" on the touchscreen. ~16°C is a traditionally used temperature in labs, that you may use in future experiments, or in your own explorations.C - The Hot Station To do genetic engineering, you need to use heat for several things: 1) to keep ingredients warm; 2) to heatshock bacteria to allow the DNA program to go through the cell membrane; 3) to recover them 4) to incubate them for optimal growth. The DNA Playground has a Hot station that allows you to heat up 4 tubes of reagents.D - The IncubatorTo grow optimally, bacteria are need contained environments with regulated temperature. This internal incubator regulates the temperature to 30°C, 37°C, or 42°C. Depending on your DNA Playground, you can incubate 2 or 8 6 cm petri dishes at the same time. The incubator also comes with a humidity chamber to keep your bacteria at the right moisture level. Slip them on top of your plate stack when incubating. One humidity chamber is in the DNA Playground small, and four humidity chambers are in the DNA Playground Large. - The Incubator lock & keyYou can lock the Incubator to keep your experiment safe!- The Power Supply connectorTo connect your Amino Labs-provided power supply to your minilab. - The Power switchTurn your minilab on or off with this toggle switch

You can get a Version 4 Alpha of the BioExplorer in our store.

After our first year testing out the Amino One // Bioproduction Lab, which allows for genetic engineering and bioproduction (cell culturing), we found that teachers and parents love it. However, from a business/manufacturing perspective, we have found that a modular system was the better way forward.

Want the original hardwood Amino One Bioproduction Lab? Contact us, let's discuss it! 

Yes! Amino Labs kits are optimized for use with a friendly type of bacteria used by scientists for research in labs. This bacterial strain can safely be used by anyone, anywhere in North America. It is non-pathogenic, and part of BioSafety Level 1 / Risk Group 1 Classification. Read more about the why it is considered safe in our blog.

(Please check your local regulations if you are outside of North America as these might be different. Contact us at info@amino.bio for any questions)

There are always challenges around the subject of biosafety and biosecurity. Amino Labs has aligned itself with President Obama, the National Security Counsel, and The National Strategy for Countering Biological Threats, who have asserted that "The beneficial nature of life science research is reflected in the widespread manner in which it occurs. From cutting-edge academic institutes, to industrial research centers, to private laboratories in basements and garages, progress is increasingly driven by innovation and open access to the insights and materials needed to advance individual initiatives." Moreover their strategy is targeted to reduce biology threads by "improving global access to the life science to combat infectious disease regardless of its cause".  Our lead Scientist, Dr. Justin Pahara, is an Emerging Leaders in Biosecurity Initiative fellow and will make sure Amino Labs is pioneering accessible and safe hands-on biology.  

We believe that increasing meaningful engagement with and understanding of biology can only be done in a learn-by-doing manner, and this means making biotechnology available. This will naturally create concern and we are here to help with any further questions, should you have any.

In North America, yes! Our kits are Biosafety Level 1 / Risk Group 1 which means they do not require special containment in North America. 

In Europe, however, there are different containment laws by country. Please check with your local authorities or find a local DIYBio space. You can start by looking here https://diybio.org/local/

Safe science guidelines will also be found in each instruction manuals! 

Bioengineering and life sciences are safe activities when you follow simple guidelines. Read on to ensure you adopt safe practices. 

 Firstly, the kits contains only non-pathogenic ingredients. These are rated Risk Group 1 (RG1) (Biosafety Level 1), the most benign level (and therefore the safest). With these ingredients, no special containment or training is required in North America*, but you must follow the following rules for your safety and the safety and success of your experiment(s)! We recommend the system for ages 12+, under adult supervision, and 16+ unsupervised.

We recommend that the discard container be emptied by an adult and that the cleaning instructions be strictly followed for safety and experiment success. Make sure to store the ingredients in accordance with the instructions found in this booklet (refrigerated, in the freezer, or room temperature). 

  1.  Eyewear is not provided but should be worn. 
  2. Do not eat or drink near your experiments. Keep your experiment at least 10 feet from food, drinks, etc. Under no circumstances should you consume any of the ingredients. 
  3. Immunocompromised persons: While the ingredients in these kits are considered non-pathogenic, some persons, such as immunocompromised persons, can be affected by large numbers of bacteria and should wear extra protection to ensure no contact with the ingredients. 
  4. Wash your hands before and after manipulating your experiment, the ingredients, or the hardware. 
  5. Wear gloves, even when cleaning your station or handling the consumables (petri plates, loops, etc). This will protect you from your experiment, and your experiment from you. Any latex, nitrile, or general purpose gloves you can find at the pharmacy will do. Also, after you put your gloves on, be aware of what you touch. Try not to touch your face, scratch itches with your gloved fingers! 
  6. Make sure all hardware is place on a solid surface, away from young children and pets. Keep it level at all times.  
  7.  Clean up your station, spills and work surface before and after use. Use a 10% solution of chlorinated bleach generously sprayed onto a paper towel and rub onto any contaminated surfaces. (Careful! This can discolor your clothes). A chlorinated spay cleaner will also work. 
  8. Find a container to discard used consumables such as the blue and yellow loops, and tubes. An old large yogurt container, large plastic cup or the like will do. You will then fill this with bleach once your experiment is over, as described in the "After your experiment" section of the instruction manuals.

Note that instruction manuals will include the most up to date and experiment-specific safety information. Always read the safety guidelines in your manual before starting an experiment. 

If you would like to do a short online lab safety course for your edification, we recommend this Government of Canada course: https://training-formation.phac-aspc.gc.ca/

You can also download these fun biosafety and biosecurity posters for your lab or classroom. These posters are shared courtesy of the Public Health Agency of Canada to supports new scientists! www.amnio.bio/whatisbiosafetywww.amino.bio/biosafetyinaction

Finally, you can use our safety checklist before, during and after each experiment. This checklist was created as a supplement to chapter 2 of the Zero to Genetic Engineering Hero Beginner's guide book, but you can use it without the book. Download the safety checklist www.amino.bio/checklist

Good question! Of course, at Amino Labs, we take safety seriously and we've addressed antibiotics resistance in this blog article: https://amino.bio/blogs/news/engineer-it-kit-safety

You can also find more information in the Zero to Genetic Engineering hero book chapter 3. 

We ship our kits worldwide from our manufacturing headquarters in Canada and the US. When shipping to international locations, we do not collect taxes on the order and you *may* need to pay brokerage / custom fees to fulfill your countries taxation laws.  We identify our packages as "Educational Science Kits" in custom forms. 

We can provide you with MSDSs if your customs agent required them. Please contact us for this or other assistance!

Please note that if you are outside of North America, your country may have restrictions regarding genetic engineering activities in the home or school outside of a regulated lab. In Europe for example, each country has specific requirements. Please check with your local authorities to find out or find a local DIYBio space. You can start by looking here https://diybio.org/local/ 

Your country may have special regulations and require us to verify your acknowledgment of them before shipping. Or, we simply haven't shipped there yet, and this is an oversight which is easily fixed.

Please contact us

Kits and Packs are shipped 1-5 business days after you place your order, with the exception of the BioExplorer Starter Pack which can take up to 3 weeks. 

If you require yours for a specific date or event, please contact us prior to your order so that we may let you know if this is possible through regular shipping or so that we may arrange a suitable solution.

We can ship your order via FedEX, Purolator, UPS and in some cases, DHL if you have a specific need, time constraint, or prefer to use a courier to go through customs/brokerage. 

Please contact us to make arrangements before you check out, as the shipping prices and options will vary.  

We do! And we are happy to become an authorized vendor in your system. Please email  us at orders@amino.bio

Our mailing address is: 93005 RR 21-0, Lethbridge County, Alberta, T1J 5R1, Canada

A few common problems can arise when using the simulators: 

  1. You are trying to use the simulators on mobile. Sorry! Our simulators are not yet optimized for mobile device use - you need to be on a computer browser to use them. We are working on adding mobile-capabilities. 
  2. You have a pop-up blocker or similar enabled. For certain drag and drop actions, a pop-up blocker seems to cause issues. Try to disable it for the simulator. 
  3. It's unclear what the next step is... Please let us know via email where you are getting stuck. 

Or you can have a look at our simulator videos. It's like a cheat sheet for the actions!