The Next Sea Monkey: A Dino-Shaped Nightlight Powered By Glowing Algae

Bring a little biotech project into your home. And don’t worry, it’s hard to kill your new pet: The little critters inside the Dino Pet eat only light.

Sea Monkeys. Ant farms. These tiny pets have taught countless kids about nature–and how to keep things alive. Andy Bass, the co-founder of Yonder Biology, sees his Dino Pet as part of that mini-pet club.


Created along with Dean Sauer (the other Yonder Biology co-founder) and Zach Horn, the founder of SINE Wakeboards, the Dino Pet is a dinosaur-shaped shell containing dinoflagellates–a type of marine algae that glow when they’re shaken. Just stick the Dino Pet in a sunlit room or under low-watt bulbs (but not in direct sunlight) during the day, and watch it glow in the dark. If cared for properly, the pet can live for up to three months on nothing but light. And if your kid feel likes ingesting the dinoflagellates (and who wouldn’t want to eat their pet?), it won’t hurt them, either.

Bass and Sauer came up with the Dino Pet idea after countless encounters with people who seemed bored upon hearing about their long careers in the biotech industry. So they wondered: how do you communicate the amazingness of biotechnology to people without a science background? They first thought about making DNA artwork–a project that they have already taken on with Yonder Biology. Then biotech investor RJ Kirk suggested that they make “a living canvas,” so the pair set about making bioluminescent lights with the dinoflagellates. Eventually, the Dino Pet was born.

“We’ve done a lot of prototyping on two ends of the spectrum–one with the actual organisms, figuring out what environments and nutrients they grow best in and how many hours of light they need. and then playing around with different containers,” says Bass. Based on prior experience giving dinoflagellates to friends, he believes that the Dino Pets will be a hit with kids. “I started giving them to guys between 30 and 40. They would take them home, and their kids would be fascinated with them,” he says.

These days, Bass and his co-creators are working on a 3-D printing process to rapidly churn out the Dino Pet shells. They’re also looking at medium to high throughput algae production facilities to figure out how they can produce dinoflagellates on a larger scale if the Dino Pet idea takes off.

Bass believes he won’t have any trouble delivering on the projected Dino Pet shipment date of April 2014. “I’ve been growing dinoflagellates for a year and a half now, and I’m confident in our ability to scale up growth,” he says.

The Dino Pet is available on Kickstarter here.


About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.