Ten gift ideas for a biotech enthusiast this holiday season

Photo/Elena Resko
biotech gifts

This article was originally published by Clara Rodríguez Fernández in December 2020 and has been updated.

Socks and sweaters are great gifts for the winter, but sometimes, a bit of biotech love goes a long way. Here’s a list of biotechnology-themed holiday gifts to get for your friends and family. 

From glow-in-the-dark mushrooms to do-it-yourself (DIY) biology kits and DNA-shaped utensils to bake goodies, you have this holiday sorted.

Table of contents

    Viral board game: a biotechnology gift with a competitive twist

    Do you know someone whose competitive streak makes them ace board games? Does this person also geek out about the wonders of the immune system? The Viral board game might be the ideal biotechnology gift for them. In the game, your role is to mutate in a host body and infect the organs as a virus. But it’s not as easy as it may seem. You’ve got to watch out for the other players, who, like you, are racing to gain Viral points while also battling the immune system. As players move around the board to get these points, they can play cards that allow them to attack other players. Once the deck of cards has run out, the player with the most Viral points is crowned the winner.

    Glow-in-the-dark mushrooms

    Want to swap your boring old lights for the festivities this season, for bioluminescent mushrooms? Bioluminescence is light that is emitted by living things through chemical reactions in their bodies. In certain mushrooms, like Armillaria mellea (honey mushrooms) and Panellus stipticus (bitter Oyster), the glow of cold light is because of a chemical reaction that involves oxyluciferin, an enzyme called luciferase, and oxygen, very similar to how fireflies light up summer nights. You can gift these in a jar to grow for a few weeks – or even buy a kit that’s available online – which is kept out of sunlight and at room temperature. Once fully bloomed, although dimly, these fungi can light up your room.

    Chromatography kits

    Have a younger sibling or a friend who is getting into performing science experiments? Why not gift them a chromatography kit to encourage their crafty capabilities this season? Chromatography is a technique that is used to separate a mixture into its individual components by dissolving it in a fluid solvent. The science behind this is that different components in a mixture travel at different speeds, causing them to separate from each other. While this is a method that is used to separate biomolecules and proteins in the development of recombinant protein pharmaceuticals, they are also used in simpler, child-friendly experiments like leaf chromatography, which can help reveal the various colorful pigments that are hidden in leaves. You can find these kits online, and will be sure to entertain young scientists, this time of year.

    A portrait of your DNA

    What gift could be more personal than a portrait capturing your own DNA? If you’ve always wanted to own a work of art made up of your own DNA – yes, that sounds pretty niche – and you have some money to spare this December, DNA11 sells DNA portrait kits that come in different sizes, formats and frames. You can even purchase a kit for multiple people if you want a family portrait. You will receive a cheek swab kit to collect your DNA, which is then used to create the artwork with your genes all over it. You could hang it as a photo frame or, perhaps, it would make for a truly original holiday postcard.

    Antique photograph of microscopic bacteria

    Do you know someone who feels most at home when in the lab? A vintage photograph of microscopic organisms of various shapes and sizes could be a thoughtful present to hang on their wall, to remind them of their lab, when they may be away during the holidays. While you could purchase these online, you could even DIY it, and print out high-resolution images of bacteria under the microscope, and frame it in a vintage photo case, or a style of their liking. You could even get creative and make a collage of various microbes, or a poster, for their home away from home. 

    Tired of baking the same gingerbread man-shaped cookies for the holidays? Then it’s time to switch it up with some DNA-shaped cookie cutters this season – the perfect gift for a biotechnology lover. These baking essentials can create 3D models of a DNA double helix made up of its sugar-phosphate backbone. You can also buy cutters in the shape of cells, viruses, chromosomes, plus a load of other options. Pick your favorite(s) and get to baking.

    A probiotics gift box

    Do you have a friend or a family member struggling with tummy troubles? A probiotics gift box might be the best wellness package to give them this winter. Probiotics contain live, ‘friendly’ bacteria that help restore the gut microbiome, which is often disrupted when you fall ill or sometimes even when on certain medication. Yogurts, sauerkraut and kefir can help boost immunity and reduce inflammation. A gift box with a varied selection of flavored yogurts and probiotic supplements can be available online, or, for cheaper, you can pick and choose your probiotics out at the supermarket for your loved one to relieve their upset gut. You can also find dairy-free probiotic sets online. 

    A good book

    Have you gone through our list of biotech books of all time? If you are seeking the ideal gift for a voracious reader, we can help you pick out a good book for someone who enjoys reading about science and biotechnology. From science fiction to biographies to stories about eye-opening discoveries, we’ve got you covered. Some of our favorites include The Gene: An Intimate History by biologist Siddhartha Mukherjee, which sheds light on the power of genetics, and is a cautionary tale about eugenics, and the horrors of Nazi Germany’s abuse of genetics; and Ada Twist, Scientist by children’s author Andrea Beatty, to get young minds engrossed in science and technology.

    Molecular paintings

    The work of David Goodsell is to be reckoned with in the world of bioart. Goodsell, who is a visual artist and scientist, has created a series of watercolor paintings that accurately represent molecular landscapes. By integrating structural biology, microscopy and biophysics to depict molecules structure of living cells in an aesthetic way, he has created paintings of a bacteriophage T4 Infection, insulin release and the design of a human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) vaccine, among numerous others. As these images are available online for free under a Creative Commons license, you can turn them into posters and hang them up at your home or make postcards to send to someone this holiday season. 

    DIY biology kits

    Do you have a bored child at home who is missing school and could use some biology fun to get into the holiday spirit? Or are you a bored grownup who thinks that age is just a number, and would enjoy doing science experiments at home? Then DIY biology kits are just the thing for you. From bacterial gene engineering CRISPR kits to gel electrophoresis kits, there is a wide selection to choose from online. The gene engineering kits come with petri plates, nutrient medium like agar and inoculation loops, to get started. These kits will provide what you need to make precision genome edits in bacteria, at home. Just make sure to check out multiple stores to get the best deal this winter.

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