PRICE often limits training and research opportunities in developing countries – but researchers have now combined 3D printing, a Raspberry Pi system, and open-source platforms for an affordable alternative.
Institutes struggling for funding, often in developing countries, frequently do not have access to commercially-produced equipment costing up to hundreds of thousands of pounds. However, according to the authors of a recent PLOS Biology paper, “modern biosciences today stand at a precipice of technological possibilities” – where setups capable of delivering wide-ranging, high-quality data can be built at a mere fraction of the commercial cost.
To prove their point, they reported the design of a €100–200 (US$115–230) modular system called “FlyPi”, then presented its use in a series of state-of-the-art neurogenetics experiments, as a medical diagnostic tool, and as a teaching aid at several African universities.
FlyPi’s design takes advantage of developments in consumer-orientated manufacturing techniques, combined with the falling prices of user-friendly, technologically-advanced microelectronics components. It is based on a 3D-printed framework holding a Raspberry Pi computer and camera, cheap LEDs for lighting and simple lenses, as well as optical and thermal control circuits based on Arduino, an open-source microcontroller.
The components can be modified to suit the laboratory’s purpose, and FlyPi was described to undertake standard lab protocols including light and fluorescence microscopy to a resolution of 10 µm, optogenetics, thermogenetics, and behavioural studies on small animals such as roundworms, fruit flies, and zebrafish larvae.