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Will we all be researchers in the future? At a time when science is still mainly in the hands of big universities and private players, Thomas Landrain — co- founder of La Paillasse and Just One Giant Lab — is employing a large-scale collaborative approach to catalyze the energy of crowds.


Thomas Landrain’s future seemed to be clearly mapped out back in 2009. After taking a degree in biology and spending a year researching in Finland, he had just landed a scholarship to write a thesis on bioreceptors in a synthetic biology laboratory — the first of its kind in France — that Landrain himself had co-founded. It was a wonderful project, seemingly custom-made for him, with substantial resources. “Even so,” says Landrain, “something was missing: my freedom! I had lots of ideas, but I was hemmed in by a very rigid structure. It wasn’t the kind of science that I’d dreamed of when I was little.”

Giving biology back to humankind

The year 2009 also marked the beginning of the do-it-yourself era, complete with fab labs and makerspaces and hackers advocating a new brand of science freed from its traditional constraints. It was against this background that the concept of an open, shared, collaborative, citizen-led laboratory was born, “designed to rip biology out of the hands of the major players and put it to use for the benefit of humankind.” While working on his dissertation, Landrain started to look for partners and a venue. La Paillasse finally opened its doors in a suburban
squat in 2011.
It wasn’t long before La Paillasse brought together a community of around 50 volun- teers, including engineers, artists, and amateur
handymen. It generated numerous projects, often centered on developing affordable lab equipment to cut the cost of accessing research. La Paillasse’s main achievements included a Quick and Dirty DNA Barcoding genetic test retailing at just €5 and an open-source biore- actor, which won a call for tenders from NASA. “After three years,” explains Landrain, “and with very little money, we managed to create a genuine, alternative open-science model.”

Professionalizing open science


Excerpt from Business Digest N°292, December 2018

To go further

Read the full 3-part feature

Point of view

What does power mean in a hyperconnected world

Interview with Thomas Landrain

Just One Giant Lab

It's up to you!

Adopting the rules of new power in your management style

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