December 29, 2008
Genetic Engineering @ Home… or Who’s up for a DIY plague?
Source: Associated Press (via Yahoo!)
Building germs in the garage? Why not? The computer industry started out in garages, and now future genetic engineers may come from the same location. These biohackers are currently twisting the double-helix of life in hopes of finding breakthrough cures and therapies, or at least creating mutant strains to help humanity. They don’t have the PhD’s or advanced medical knowledge, but they can find most of the info, materials, and equipment they need off the Internet. A Massachusetts company is also helping the DIY gene-twisters:
In Cambridge, Mass., a group called DIYbio is setting up a community lab where the public could use chemicals and lab equipment, including a used freezer, scored for free off Craigslist, that drops to 80 degrees below zero, the temperature needed to keep many kinds of bacteria alive.
Co-founder Mackenzie Cowell, a 24-year-old who majored in biology in college, said amateurs will probably pursue serious work such as new vaccines and super-efficient biofuels, but they might also try, for example, to use squid genes to create tattoos that glow.
Cowell said such unfettered creativity could produce important discoveries.
What’s the worst that could happen? There are critics who see this DIY attitude as an open invitation to terrorism, or at least a recipe for disaster. But given how the current system is used just to make profits, and how hacker innovation has allowed computer technology to explode to its current state, biohackers may be better than the money-driven model.