Your protocols will be assimilated


Monday, June 20, 2016

We are happy to annouce the UW BIOFAB, a new UW cost center. Researchers at the University of Washington may use the Aquarium software to remotely submit molecular biology and microbiology jobs. Technicians in the BIOFAB execute the protocols following Aquarium workflows and upload the results into the Aquarium database. Cloning projects can be executed from start to finish, without the client ever having to touch a pipette! Records of all jobs and samples are permanently stored in the Aquarium inventory database, eliminating the need for messy lab notebooks and complex inventory systems. Thanks to Michelle Parks, Yaoyu Yang, and Tina Montgomery for all of their hard work making this happen.

Keyboard Syn Bio

Monday, June 20, 2016

We just finished teaching EE/CSE/BIOEN 425: Laboratory Methods in Synthetic Biology. This year we tried something very different. We had students design their DNA and strains in Coral, and use the Aquarium Python API to upload their jobs into Aquarium. Then they sit back and watch as their experiments are done by our technicians. How's that for a laboratory method? It was great to see how easily computer science and electrical engineering students were able to understand synthetic biology when you abstract all of the details of the lab.

Aquarium, the Company

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Aquarium is being developed into a commercial product that you will be able to use in your lab! See the web page for more information.

Big Brother

Sunday, March 15, 2015

We just finished teaching EE/CSE/BIOEN 425: Laboratory Methods in Synthetic Biology. We were even more successful than last year, with students building and testing all sorts of CRISPR/dCas9 circuits based on Miles Gander's technology ( As part of the ISTC smart wetlab project, we also installed three cameras on each lab bench workstation and collected a total of 18 TB of video data showing each step in each protocol that was done by the students. They all agreed to be recorded, by the way. Our machine learning collaborators will be crunching these data for quite a while!

A Year of Data

Monday, February 02, 2015

Aquarium has been up and running in the Klavins lab for a little over a year. Since that time, we've seen big changes. Initially, not everyone in the lab wanted to use the system. They had to put all of their samples into the inventory management system, they had to give up control over their own Gibson assemblies, they had to learn a new system. Plus, Aquarium was initially pretty buggy and limited in what it could do. Since then, we've gone through three different protocol representation languages, produced over 11,000 items in the inventory, and run thousands of jobs. We are currently running more than 350 jobs per week between research and teaching. These jobs are associated with a growing library of more than 200 protocols ranging from preparing media to Gibson assembly to flow cytometry. New protocols are added and tested every month.

And we continue to grow. By May of 2015, we will have added two new technicians and we are looking for a lab manager to run the system on weekends. Interested? See here for positions available.

New Technicans!

Saturday, November 01, 2014

We now have five wonderful Aquarium technicians each working half time in the lab. Toghether with our amazing lab manager Michelle Parks, the technicians now do 99% of the cloning (Gibson Assembly) and media prepration in the Klavins lab, and they do cloning for our some of our collaborators in the Seelig, Nemhauser, and Carothers labs. They also do about 60% of the yeast work, including integration, verification, flow cytometry, and similar protocols. Each technician is an undergraduate student with little or no prior background in molecular biology lab work. To train them, we use the same set of protocols we use to teach our Laboratory Methods in Synthetic Biology course. They also get careful supervision by Michelle to learn everything that is not in Aquarium. It takes a new technician about a month to get up to speed, and then they are cloning away.

ISTC Montage

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Our collaborators at the Intel ISTC on Pervasive Computing have been outfitting our lab with a variety of cameras and other sensors to capture what the Aquarium technicians are doing. They take the video and apply amazing activity recognition methods to parse the activity into useful information that could help debug protocols, train new technicians, and improve workflow. Below is a montage of some of the various methods and angles they have tried. Thanks to Anthony LeMarca (Intel) for putting this video together!

TEDx: Programming Biology

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Prof. Eric Klavins recently spoke at a independently organized TEDx event on programming biology and described the motivation for Aquarium. Until approximately 2008, Klavins lab research was primarily in computer science and robotics. At about that time, Eric learned the basics of genetic engineering completely switched fields to synthetic biology and now runs an interdisciplinary group of engineers, biologists, experimentalists, and theorists -- all focused on engineering life. In particular, Eric's research concerns developing programming languages and abstractions that can be used to design, fabricate, test, and refine new organisms. Example applications include synthetic multicellular consortia that digest plant matter and produce biofuels, diagnose disease, or assemble into complex patterns and shapes. This talk describes an outsiders view on the biology lab, how biology labs are different from engineering, and the thought process that went into the Aquarium project.

Technology Teaches

Thursday, May 08, 2014

The UW Center for Innovation annouces funding for Aqaurium in the classroom. Here's the description: A group of faculty from the Intel Science and Technology Center for Pervasive Computing will collaborate with faculty in the synthetic biology program tobuild a semi-automated, human-in-the-loop laboratory. For this framework protocols and methods will be encoded in a new programming language. Software will guide students through every step of every protocol with touchscreen interfaces, simple text, images, movies and otherfeatures. Sensors such as cameras, Google Glasses and radio-frequency identifications tags will monitor supplies, reagents and equipment as the protocols are being performed. Detailed logs will be used to refine protocols and methods and to catch mistakes. The goal for teaching will be to develop a sequence of life sciences research protocols students work through independently and then refine. Subsequently we will teach the students how to author their own protocols and methods. Through this process students will learn basic protocols, how to author new protocols and methods, and how to design and test a new organism from first principles. The course melds engineering, computer science and life sciences into a hands-on experience in synthetic biology.

First week of class

Thursday, January 09, 2014

The first big test of Aquarium is to use it to teach UW's Laboratory Methods for Synthetic Biology course in the Winter 2014 quarter. In the first five weeks students learn basic laboratory skills, molecular cloning, Gibson assembly, and how to knock out genes using the Keio method. We write the protocols and methods in Plankton and Oyster, and Aquarium does the rest while we sit back and watch the data accumulate. In the second five weeks, the students will learn to write their own protocols and run them on Aquarium. So far, after the first week and a few bugfixes, the system is running like a charm! Two hundred sixteen jobs, of which about 75% were successful and most of the rest just cancelled because they were scheduled accidentally.

Update (Feb. 10): We're done with the first five weeks. Almost all protocols were completed successfully, except some knockouts did not work in the last week. The students are now breaking into groups to write their own protocols and methods (everything from qPCR to measure gene expression to gene assembly) to run in Aquarium. Each method will be run once a week for four weeks (starting next week) by four different groups. In between runs, students have a chance to improve their protocols based on feedback from their peers.

ISTC Wetlab Capstone

Monday, July 01, 2013

The UW Intel Center for Pervasive Computing (ISTC) has named the "Smart Wetlab" as one of its two capstone projects. This means Aquarium workstations will be augmented with sensors and Aquarium will be used as a testbed by ISTC researchers working on everything from activity recognition to natural lagnuage processing. Why is Intel interested in synthetic biology? First of all, The Intel ISTC is interested in making new technology pervasive in everyday life, including in the workplace. And it turns out that biofabrication and microfabrication have a lot in common. Manufactuing processes need to be reproducible. Technician training needs to be reliable. The synthetic biology lab is, thus, perfect for trying out new ways to help people do their work by tracking their samples, providing a video-enriched lab notebook, outfitting everything with sensors, and using activity recognition and machine learning to provide real time suggestions.