Bento Lab – the mobile genetic analysis solution

  • 2020

  • Product
    Medical and Scientific

Commissioned By:

Bento Bioworks

Designed In:

United Kingdom

Traditional tools for genetics are complicated, expensive, and huge. Bento Lab makes genetics accessible to any curious person. It combines an entire DNA analysis setup in a laptop-like device, from sample to genetic fingerprint. Across the globe diverse communities are using Bento Lab to explore the miraculous world of life.

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Image: Bento Bioworks
Image: Bento Bioworks
Image: Bento Bioworks
Image: Hollie Putnam
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  • The brief was to design a portable, low cost DNA analysis platform for non-scientists, that everyone from the age of 14 could use to explore the wonders of genetics responsibly. The product should be portable, with rigorous safety design, to promote ethical use outside a traditional laboratory setting. The industrial design should invite curiosity, and differentiate itself from traditional, intimidating lab equipment. The design should be welcoming to encourage inclusive use across different communities. The product cost should come under USD $2000, while retaining quality and scientific accuracy.

  • Initially, semi-functional design models were constructed and exhibited at MakerFaires and meet-ups to gather feedback from potential users. Insights derived from these early prototypes fed into designing and constructing 15 functional models, using 3D printing and digital fabrication. These ‘beta-testing’ units were rented to users across different communities, who applied via our website and were selected based on their day-to-day work. After demonstrating product-market fit, the product was redesigned for local manufacturing, and production started in London. Moreover, while the product was intentionally designed for non-scientists, it has been adopted by academia, industry, and government for its accessible design.

  • Bento Lab is being used in 31 countries, with over 380 groups. Applications span from fungi identification in Germany, to homeschooling in rural USA, to malaria diagnostics in India. Because the design is portable, field-researchers use the lab on site to study the conservation of endangered species, biodiversity and identify invasive species. Due to the lower cost, it plays a role in making critical scientific infrastructure accessible, promoting global equity. In Europe and East Africa, it is being implemented to train farmers to fight crop diseases. In Indonesia, it is being considered as a solution for decentralised PCR testing capabilities.

  • We designed Bento Lab with customisation and extendability in mind. For example, the design of the Bento Lab electronics is plug-and-play, enabling installation of different components such as more powerful motors for higher speed, or transilluminator screens with different wavelengths. New software can be installed over Wifi connection. This capability allows us to rapidly develop configurations for specialised use cases. In particular, we are currently working with research groups in Canada and Peru to create a Bento Lab based system for Covid19 tests that can be operated by staff with little or no laboratory training.