Question mark
What happens when complex science is turned into an entry-level, community-led experience?

View background for more details on the problem and approach to solution.

Distributed genetic engineering
meets the open web:

Using the "RDP Violacein Factory" kit with the Synbiota platform, researchers around the world will work in parallel to engineer a safe strain of E. coli so that it can make violacein on demand.

If through this Open Distributed Genetic Engineering Hack we can identify a DNA design and associated experimental conditions that lower the cost of violacein by half, that would be a stunning scientific accomplishment.

By combining hundreds or thousands of people working in parallel with the forces of the RDP Violacein Factory and SYNBIOTA's #openscience platform, we can try thousands of experimental combinations to arrive at the best genetic assembly for low-cost violacein production. Will you join us on this challenge?


Phase 1 March 30 - Ongoing

Design, Build, Grow

Phase 2 July 21 - Ongoing

Verify & Quantify

All participants will find note entries that explain how to verify the DNA in their colonies in their #ScienceHack project on Synbiota. There are two main experiments that need to be done to fulfill this stage. Once they're complete, participants will be able to understand what DNA they actually built.

The experiments needed are:

  1. Restriction Digest to verify the plasmid size

    Each #Sciencehack group will pick 5-10 of their favourite colonies. They then isolate high purity plasmid DNA from their chosen colonies, complete and EcoRI restriction digest and run it in a gel. They can then compare the size of the DNA plasmid to the original DNA designs.

  2. DNA sequencing to verify the plasmid sequence

    Participants will pick the bacterial colonies with inoculated toothpicks and package those toothpicks in labelled epitubes. Once packaged, they should be mailed to Synbiota Headquarters at 35 Liberty Street, Suite 105 Toronto, Ontario, Canada M6K 1A6.

    Next, participants should create a DNA sequencing entry in their ScienceHack project. Synbiota will submit a mass order of DNA sequencing to BioBasic at a cost of $300 per #Sciencehack group. This will be enough to sequence 5 colonies. After they’ve been sequenced, participants will receive their DNA sequencing data directly in their DNA sequencing entry in their ScienceHack project on Synbiota. The DNA sequencing data is stitched together using Synbiota’s new and improved DNA designer, GENtle3. GENtle3 will allow participants to compare their original DNA design with their actual results at the level of its genetic code.

  3. Move onto Quantification

    To be announced shortly. Stay tuned!

Phase 3 TBD

Compile & Publish

Launching December 1st. Details to come.


  • 48 entries
  • 23 collaborators
  • 45 entries
  • 31 collaborators
  • 25 entries
  • 11 collaborators
  • 29 entries
  • 17 collaborators


Join by hosting your own #ScienceHack!

The Violacein Factory Kit simplifies metabolic engineering through the use of standardized Synbiota RDP parts that speed up the discovery process


  1. Form a team of up to 15 people with at least one scientist.
  2. Order a #ScienceHack Violacein Factory Kit.
  3. Checkout the other Violacein Factories to gain insight.
  4. Start hacking!
Order Kit


Research can be slow and medicine can be expensive when it comes to fighting off illnesses. Fortunately, nature has given rise to some incredible creatures that can help.

Violacein is a natural purple compound made by soil-dwelling bacteria that live in the tropics (Chromobacterium violaceum) (Durán et al, 2007). Violacein is the bacteria’s built-in defense, killing any protozoans, like amoeba, that try to eat it.

As a result, violacein has been heralded as a possible treatment against parasites (Matz et al., 2004; Matz and Kjelleberg, 2005). It has also shown promise as a treatment for cancer, particularly leukemia (Ferriera et al., 2004; Carvalho et al., 2006).

***The World Health Organization estimates that 50 million people worldwide suffer from invasive amoebic infections each year, resulting in 40,000 to 100,000 annual deaths (Haque, 2007).

But a major problem is violacein’s cost, weighing in today at $356,000.00 per gram. This price barrier is unacceptable, and lives are on the line.

Scientists have determined the metabolic pathway in Chromobacterium violaceum that is able to turn tryptophan (the amino acid that makes you feel sleepy when you eat too much turkey) into violacein. This pathway uses five enzymes, and several different genes code for their production. The difficulty is that the genes can be positioned differently in the DNA molecule to yield the best results. Finding the ideal combination will take many tries, and we can find it faster, together, through a #scienceHack like this.

Can we hack the pathway to Violacein production in order to dramatically decrease its cost and increase its global abundance? We think we can. Let’s prove it together.