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Sci Adv. 2018 Aug 1;4(8):eaat5105. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.aat5105. eCollection 2018 Aug.

BioBits™ Explorer: A modular synthetic biology education kit.

Huang A1,2,3, Nguyen PQ3,4, Stark JC5,6,7, Takahashi MK2, Donghia N3, Ferrante T3, Dy AJ1,2,8,9, Hsu KJ10, Dubner RS11, Pardee K12, Jewett MC5,6,7,13,14, Collins JJ1,2,3,8,9,15.

Author information

Department of Biological Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, MA 02139, USA.
Institute for Medical Engineering and Science, MIT, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA.
Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, Harvard University, Boston, MA 02115, USA.
School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA.
Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208, USA.
Chemistry of Life Processes Institute, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208, USA.
Center for Synthetic Biology, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208, USA.
Synthetic Biology Center, MIT, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA.
Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Cambridge, MA 02142, USA.
Department of Mechanical Engineering, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208, USA.
Department of Biological Sciences, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208, USA.
Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario M5S 3M2, Canada.
Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center, Northwestern University, 676 North Saint Clair Street, Suite 1200, Chicago, IL 60611, USA.
Simpson Querrey Institute, Northwestern University, Chicago, IL 60611, USA.
Harvard-MIT Program in Health Sciences and Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA.


Hands-on demonstrations greatly enhance the teaching of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) concepts and foster engagement and exploration in the sciences. While numerous chemistry and physics classroom demonstrations exist, few biology demonstrations are practical and accessible due to the challenges and concerns of growing living cells in classrooms. We introduce BioBits™ Explorer, a synthetic biology educational kit based on shelf-stable, freeze-dried, cell-free (FD-CF) reactions, which are activated by simply adding water. The FD-CF reactions engage the senses of sight, smell, and touch with outputs that produce fluorescence, fragrances, and hydrogels, respectively. We introduce components that can teach tunable protein expression, enzymatic reactions, biomaterial formation, and biosensors using RNA switches, some of which represent original FD-CF outputs that expand the toolbox of cell-free synthetic biology. The BioBits™ Explorer kit enables hands-on demonstrations of cutting-edge science that are inexpensive and easy to use, circumventing many current barriers for implementing exploratory biology experiments in classrooms.

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