(TNS) — Seeking to improve understanding of life science among students and the general public in the biotech hotbed of San Diego, the La Jolla-Riford Branch Library has opened a groundbreaking public biotech laboratory.
Local officials led by San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and Congressman Scott Peters on Tuesday officially marked the opening of the laboratory. Equipment for public use includes microscopes, DNA copying machines, and a 3D printer, under the supervision of volunteer scientists.
Peters called this a "test case" for city libraries, implying that if the La Jolla library lab works out, more could be in the offing. The lab is rated Biosafety Level 1, a low-risk lab type suitable for use in high schools.
Public biotech laboratories have become increasingly common in recent years, as biotech scientists seek to increase public knowledge, help solo entrepreneurs get off the ground, and teach students about biotech jobs. In San Diego County, they include Carlsbad's Bio, Tech and Beyond, and San Diego's Wet Lab, in the East Village area.
La Jolla's Life Science Collaboratory, which has been open since April, could be the country's first at a public library. Biotech professionals reached for comment said they weren't aware of any others.
"We have never heard of such a thing, so I think the folks in San Diego may be correct," said Sarah MacDonald, executive vice president of MassBio, the Massachusetts life science trade group.
"The idea has been floated for libraries to offer some introductory biology stuff as part of their 21st century capabilities," said Joseph Jackson, a chief management officer for Bio, Tech and Beyond. Jackson said that to his knowledge, the La Jolla library, part of the San Diego public library system, is the first to have actually done so.
San Mateo Public Library hosts biotechnology learning center with meeting space and computer resources. A laboratory is planned but not yet in operation, the library said.
Close to San Diego's biotech hub of Torrey Pines Mesa, the library is a logical place for biotech outreach. The nearby Salk Institute for Biological Studies has partnered with the library to offer educational programs.
"San Diego is one of the top cities for biotech in the world and yet our general community is not engaged in this field," said Laura Jordan-Smith, public outreach director for San Diego Wet Lab, a community biotech group and another library partner.
During the opening, students from Muirlands Middle School extracted DNA from cells, using supplies and equipment available in average households. Students mashed vegetables such as onions into a pulp, and with detergent and other ingredients caused the DNA to separate out of solution so it could be seen.
They were overseen by volunteer scientists from Wet Lab. One of them is Dovi Kacev, who recently earned a doctorate in ecological genetics and is starting postdoctoral studies at the National Marine Fisheries Service.
"The La Jolla library is just a great place to take research that we do in the lab and make it more real and help it reach the public," Kacev said.
Among its other offerings, Wet Lab is offering a discussion of the use of DNA to solve crimes on Saturday, Sept. 5, at the library, starting at 3 p.m. To sign up, call 858-552-1657 or email LJstaff@sandiego.gov.
The appearance by Faulconer, a Republican, and Peters, a Democrat, symbolized a bipartisan accord in the community that the biotechnology industry is good to have in San Diego, a source of well-paying jobs and producer of new disease therapies.
"This is exciting," Faulconer said. "This is cool."
The two also praised each other's work in support of the library biotech lab and of biotech in general.
©2015 The San Diego Union-Tribune, distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.