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Biotech

Hacking With Synthetic Biology 135

Posted by timothy
from the don't-lick-your-fingers dept.
blackbearnh writes "If you've gotten tired of hacking firewalls or cloud computing, maybe it's time to try your hand with DNA. That's what Reshma Shetty is doing with her Doctorate in Biological Engineering from MIT. Apart from her crowning achievement of getting bacteria to smell like mint and bananas, she's also active in the developing field of synthetic biology and has recently helped found a company called Gingko BioWorks which is developing enabling technologies to allow for rapid prototyping of biological systems. She talked to O'Reilly Radar recently about the benefits and potential dangers of easy biological design, why students should be hacking wetware, and what's involved in setting up your own lab to slice genes."
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Hacking With Synthetic Biology

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  • by Rog-Mahal (1164607) on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @01:40PM (#26889545)
    A recipe for disaster? Sounds like a pretty easy way for people to start making some nasty superbugs. I know all scientific innovation has that kind of risk, but I don't think I want my neighbor hacking E. coli next door.
    • by zappepcs (820751) on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @01:57PM (#26889863) Journal

      Are you kidding? This will revolutionize the world. Your neighbor (not mine), in an attempt to show that you can't even FORCE nature to make a crocoduck will inadvertently create an airborne strain of E. coli that is resistant to any cheap form of treatment: resulting in a solution to rising unemployment and illegal immigration in less than 38 hours. The resulting global changes will be heralded as Allah's revenge against the great satan and simultaneously on the GLBT communities for their crimes against god. In less than a week, big pharmaceutical industry will collapse with the announcement that a 15 year old Korean kid in S.California has created an antidote that can be distributed in the flavor coating on potato chips. Frito Lay purchases several Pharma companies and hires the kid to work on gene therapies to be distributed via Corn Chips. Monsanto sues to block genetically modified material being added to their corn........ sigh

      • by Ucklak (755284) on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @02:07PM (#26890063)

        I want to see a cat with wings in active pursuit of prey.

        I would also like to see these http://www.genpets.com/index.php [genpets.com]

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by mehemiah (971799)

          I would also like to see these http://www.genpets.com/index.php [genpets.com]

          That has to be the most shocking thing I have ever seen. I almost couldn't judge how serious it was until someone called my attention. Im sure its just a plot to get page hits but... WTF?? After the shock wheres off, you realize how fake it looks.

          • It looks it could be a good bit of viral marketing for a movie like Gremlins, or something like Planet of the Apes, etc. The About page explains the actual background pretty well.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by wizardforce (1005805)

      all technology has a risk of being missued but if we didn't develop any of that tech because of that fear, then we'd never have developed fire out of fear that it could be used to burn down homes. The haber process which keeps 2 billion people fed and alive today was developed to produce nitrogen compounds used to make munitions to kill people. NO tech in of its self is evil, it is how it is used which is evil.

      • by Moraelin (679338) on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @02:41PM (#26890691) Journal

        I don't think anyone cringes at exploring technology per se, but at doing so without much safeguards if any. The potential for mass harm is great, and while nobody proposes to outlaw it as such, it would be nice if it stayed only in proper labs and you at least had to tell someone your idea before even starting on it. You know, sorta like the XKCD idea of having your comment read out loud to you so you get a second chance to spot if it sounds bloody stupid.

        Basically the same as: I'm not against electricity or nuclear power, but if the neighbour's kid managed to buy ten kilos of plutonium for his science experiment... I'd _worry_.

        And here we're talking about something which has historically caused more harm than a nuke before. E.g.,

        - repeated smallpox outbreaks seem to have been what weakened the Roman empire in the first centuries AD, to the point of near collapse of its economy and army. (Not to mention making everyone disillusioned with the old gods and ways.) There are outbreaks that are estimated to have killed up to 30% of the empire's total population. _Thousands_ of people died daily in Rome alone, for decades straight. (Though later Justinian's Plague killed about ten thousands a day in Constantinople.)

        - ask the american indians how well smallpox worked for them later

        - bubonic plague outbursts killed a majority of Europe's population back then, with mortality as high as 75% per outbreak in some cities (though not all.)

        - we had a killer flu as late as after the first world war

        Knowing that everyone can concoct their own cross between flu and aids with just a couple of relevant genes from the noro-virus for extra flavour, doesn't exactly make me sleep easier.

        And before someone goes, "omg, but now we have antibiotics": yeah, but curing viruses is still where we suck. Royally.

        And at least theoretically it would be possible to concoct even bacterias which don't respond to antibiotics that well. The easy to explain version is to just start from VISA/VRSA (think MRSA with extra resistances) and give it a gene so it multiplies faster. But for something more advanced for true gurus, why not swap out the proteins attacked by the antibiotics in the first place? E.g., give it the ribosome from an animal cell, and you just rendered a whole class of antibiotics impotent at a more fundamental level than normal bacterial resistances. Might need to recode a couple of other proteins for it to work, but that's why I've said it's for gurus only.

        Or get creative. Make a bacteria or virus that can live equally well on plants _and_ animals. Now that'll be a royal pain in the arse to completely root out, and it can safely kill its hosts without making itself extinct.

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by interkin3tic (1469267)

          I don't think anyone cringes at exploring technology per se, but at doing so without much safeguards if any. The potential for mass harm is great, and while nobody proposes to outlaw it as such, it would be nice if it stayed only in proper labs and you at least had to tell someone your idea before even starting on it. You know, sorta like the XKCD idea of having your comment read out loud to you so you get a second chance to spot if it sounds bloody stupid.

          If you work in a lab, you obviously have to tell your boss what you're up to. If you have your own lab, you're too busy telling the NIH what you've done and why they need to give you more money, to be doing this on the side. If you run into a problem you can't solve, the first thing you do is ask your colleagues for advice. In other words, people know what you're working on, we already talk to each other and hopefully would be able to tell if our colleagues were about to create a supervirus (which, by th

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Moraelin (679338)

            All the examples you provided were diseases that had natural origins (the smallpox was intentionally spread, but was not created or spread by scientists), which highlights something key here: if there is going to be a killer virus, it's going to be natural. If someone catches an airborn form of ebola and is infectious while in a major international airport... goodnight. Don't worry about the amateurs, the most dangerous and evil biologist is nature itself.

            That's a bit irrelevant, since the capability of gen

            • That's a bit irrelevant, since the capability of genetically engineering a virus was missing until very recently.

              Right, and I guess I worded that poorly. My point wasn't "They've always been natural, they can never be man-made" but was instead "Let's not worry too much about man-made diseases when a natural one is so much more likely."

        • by welshmnt (787086)
          why not get really creative and develop a bacteria that ate nylon, polycarbonate etc? That wouldn't have interesting effects at all now would it?
    • by xplenumx (703804) on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @02:20PM (#26890297)
      I can't say I'm terribly concerned about your proposed scenario. Unlike computer programming, bioengineering takes quite a bit more capital. Let's say you want to insert a protein into a bacteria - first you need to create the cDNA (you'll need a PCR machine or water baths (heh), expensive enzymes, the ability to pipette uL amounts, random primers, and a source of mRNA), then you'll need to isolate the protein's cDNA, next you'll have to clone out the gene (do you have access to a sequencer?), and put the gene in a plasmid that will express the protein (you'll have to buy one as you won't be able to reasonably make one). Let's see, you'll also need amp/kan, LB plates, a warm room, some media, and a shaker (unless you want to use sub-sub-optimum conditons). After this, you'll have to express your plasmid in the bacteria - did I mention that, typically, bacteria that express the protein will be at a selective disadvantage? Wait, you want to stably integrate your protein into the bacterial genome? That's a whole, more difficult, can of worms. So you want to modify a virus... where are you planning on getting the viral vector? What type of virus are you attempting to modify? Some are very difficult to work with. Making one can be a PhD thesis in and of itself. Infecting eukaryotic cells is not easy either - a lot of money is being spent on trying to increase the efficiency for anti-cancer therapy.

      Unlike computer programming, these aren't projects that people are (realistically) able to do in their basement. Often we give the simplest experiments (just the cloning part), where all the reagents are present and the knowledge base is easily available, to summer students - and often times they fail. I don't worry about the rogue 'biohacker' next door (all the more power to them - maybe they'll learn something about science). I worry about rogue governments - particulary ones that believe God will protect them.
      • It's realistically doable in your basement. It just requires a lot of startup capital relative to a computer. I've long wanted to play around with garage genetics, and even on my graduate student salary, i've put away enough that i could afford pipet sets, thermocyclers, enzymes, etc. I just dont have the garage. Or enough room in my apt. to put the stuff. Or a really good idea worth spending all this money on. Or a purchasing account with a respectable scientific supplier.
      • She talked to O'Reilly Radar recently about the benefits and potential dangers of easy biological design, why students should be hacking wetware, and what's involved in setting up your own lab to slice genes.

        If I'm not mistaken, this is exactly what the article is getting at, how to make it cost less and be easier.

        At least they don't ignore what others are saying though, in that there are benefits and dangers.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by shipbrick (929823)
        You're making it sound quite difficult and expensive, but I don't think it's really that expensive or difficult. You laugh at water baths, but that would work just fine for PCR, and Taq Polymerase really isn't that expensive (~$100 for lots of rxns). Sure all the kits us biologists use are easy and expensive, but if someone is doing it for a hobby, they can bypass kits and do things "old school" style (where one actually knows what they are doing instead of adding reagent A to reagent B). Also, if someone
      • technological progress marches on

        your average middle class high school kid can buy $500 HD editting software and a $1K HD camera and have more power in his rec room than the average major hollywood studio in 1969

        plus, biology is not limited like chemistry or physics: you might know how to make nerve gas or plutonium, but you still need very expensive materials and equipment well beyond your means as a middle class kid. but all genetic hacking requires is biochemical manipulations around us in every microorg

      • by furby076 (1461805)
        And if you are smart enough to resequence genes to become deadly you are probably trying to resequence genes to be useful...because making a crapload of money and being hailed a hero (note: benefit of being a hero = sleeping with babes) is better then killing a lot of people (including people you may know...like yourself...and babes), being hailed a murderer, and instead of making a crapload of money - lots of people are putting bounties on your head to make a lot of money by killing you (assuming you didn'
        • by TheLink (130905)
          But think of what will happen if the barrier to entry gets lower.

          For some people deadly = useful.

          In case you haven't noticed, suicide bombers often kill themselves and a lot of people.

          Will the human world be ready for the time when almost everyone can afford the equivalent of a Big Red "Kill Everyone" Button?

          People say tech progress is inevitable, but:

          1) not all paths have to be taken NOW
          2) not all paths can be taken at the same time since we do have resource constraints.
          3) many paths cannot be "untaken" on
          • Not to mention some horrible accident where the untrained kid mistakes one sequence to another and instead of creating a retrovirus the cures cancer, it turns everyone into the living dead, then he trips, breaks the vial and boom... Raccoon City.
      • by olddotter (638430) on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @05:26PM (#26893813) Homepage

        Did you even think about reading the article? The ultimate goal of this is to make sure that people can do it for little cost. I listen to researchers in the area complain that they can't get grad students to work on a project if there isn't an easy off the shelf kit you can buy to do the work.

        A few $1000, eBay, and you can equip a basement lab. This time is to bioscience what the 1970's were to Steve Jobs and Woz. See this ebay search: http://shop.ebay.com/items/_W0QQ_nkwZsequencerQ20dnaQQ_armrsZ1QQ_fromZR40QQ_mdoZ [ebay.com]

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by mick129 (126225)

        Gel electrophoresis using drinking straws:
        http://maradydd.livejournal.com/417631.html [livejournal.com]

        DiYBio Club:
        http://io9.com/5014059/a-homebrew-club-for-biogeeks [io9.com]

        Home-brew science is becoming more possible.


      • RB: Morphology? Longevity? Incept dates?
        DC: I don't know such stuff.
        DC: I just do eyes. Just eyes.|Just genetic design.
        DC: You Nexus?
        DC: I designed your eyes.
        RB: If only you could see|what I've seen with your eyes.
        RB: Now...
        RB: ...questions.
        DC: I don't know answers.
        RB: Who does?
        DC: Tyrell! He knows everything.
        DC: Tyrell Corporation?
        DC: He big boss.
        DC: Big genius. He design your mind.|Your brain.
        RB: Smart.
        DC: Very cold.
        RB: Not an easy man to see...
        DC: Very cold.
        RB: ...I gu
      • these aren't projects that people are (realistically) able to do in their basement.

        That is exactly what these companies and projects are trying to change. They set up large libraries of genetic components with standardized "connectors". The create plasmids that "just work". Etc. People will be able to try out lots of stuff in their basement at almost no cost. nd sequences they don't have, they can simply order for a few hundred dollars.

        This wasn't even hard or costly 20 years ago, and it's even easier n

      • by Yvanhoe (564877)
        FTFA :
        "Even just to put pieces of DNA together can be a fairly laborious and manual process that's pretty error-prone. So how do we make that process easier? How do we make it so that an undergraduate or a team of undergraduates can go engineer E. coli to smell like wintergreen and banana in just a summer?" Typically, people usually assume that those types of projects are just too hard to do, because the tools we have essentially suck. So synthetic biology is focused on the effort of making biological eng
      • The advances necessary to miniaturize and mass produce a DNA fab for home use really aren't as far off as they seem. It'll really only be at most 10-20 generations, and we all know how quickly machine generations iterate.
    • by Locke2005 (849178)
      I was just thinking how terrible it would be if these genetically engineering bacteria were to escape into the wild... suddenly, sewer systems everywhere would start smelling like mint and bananas! Can you imaging the uproar when that happens?
      • by imamac (1083405)
        Some parent would sue because their not-so-bright youngster went down into the sewer to drink the "nice smelling" water.
      • You mean minty banana ass smell. Unfortunately, shit mixes with pretty much everything else (if it doesn't just overwhelm it).

    • by cd.rubysocks (1480131) on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @02:58PM (#26890975)
      I like how she responded to this issue with the word 'democratization'. She doesn't seem to be so worried about some crazy terrorist getting access to this technology, as governments monopolizing it for biowarfare development. And I'm inclined to agree that we should be just as worried about the latter as the former. A few links about this scientist/entrepeneur:
      Her Bio [openwetware.org]
      Forbes article - DIY Life [forbes.com]
      MIT TechTV Video - DIY Biology [mit.edu]
    • Sounds like a pretty easy way for people to start making some nasty superbugs.

      There are two bigger threats when it comes to dangerous germs the government and nature. People tinkering around with bugs in their home labs generally have no motivation to develop superbugs. It's not like you can create a literal wetware virus that will net you people's credit card information like a computer virus could. And it's not like you could sell a superbug to anyone, the military is probably not going to buy yours, they likely have their own. Those are the ones I worry about.

      Most of all thoug

    • by maxume (22995)

      I think you underestimate how nasty day-to-day bugs are. We just happen to be very well equipped to deal with them.

      I would guess that they are careful to contain any engineered bugs, partly to keep them from acting on the environment, but also to keep the environment from acting on them.

    • Don't get your skivies in a wad, E. Coli [wikipedia.org] are promiscuous little whores and does the bacteria conjugation [wikipedia.org], transduction [wikipedia.org] and transformation [wikipedia.org] thing; so what your neighbor does isn't anything the little bugger aren't doing by trial and error anyways.

    • It sounds more like a receipe for fewer chemicals being available to the common hobby chemist.

      Try, just try, to get any important chemicals for organic chemistry these days. About a third of them are on the "this can be used for bombs" list, another on the "this could be used for drugs" list, and now the rest will be locked away because it's on the "this could be used for germs" list.

  • by jollyreaper (513215) on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @01:42PM (#26889581)

    Biological tinkering has me concerned because we're talking about self-replicating systems. Realistically, we're not going to see nanite swarms or grey goo eating the whole planet as is feared in science fiction. Nanites have to operate within the same laws of physics as anything else and are unlikely to be spectacularly and magically more robust than organics. Hell, at such a small scale they would be more likely to be custom-designed organics.

    That being said, organics ranging from viruses to bacteria to algae can cause quite a bit of trouble in our ecosystem. My only concern is that we might create some sort of blight in the lab that gets out. Now I'm not saying she's deliberately working with stuff that's intentionally meant to be lethal like the biological warfare guys in Russia but even those guys who knew they were messing with absolutely lethal bugs still made mistakes and had accidental releases.

    Given that we won't know that something is really bad for us in the environment until after it gets out and starts doing terrible things, I would like to suggest we operate with an abundance of caution here. It wouldn't take an accidental flesh-eating bacteria to ruin everyone's day. The next corn smut or citrus canker could not kill a single person and cost the economy billions.

    • by Locke2005 (849178)
      The next corn smut or citrus canker could not kill a single person and cost the economy billions. Shh! You're giving the terrorists ideas! You know how much they hate our oranges and corn!

      Wait a minute... "corn smut"?!? I think I've seen old videos of that on the internet...

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by wizardforce (1005805)

      My only concern is that we might create some sort of blight in the lab that gets out.

      we can also delete/disable genes required for growth outside the lab. As an example, knocking out multiple genes involved in synthesizing nutrients that are not common outside of a lab setting. stack several of these together and the chance the bacteria has of adapting quickly is roughly zero. synthetic biology also allows us to incorporate unnatural amino acids that if not present in the medium, cause protein synthesis

      • Wouldn't some blackhat gene hacker simply not do that? At least right now there is a purpose, whether to make a biological weapon (which is, by its nature, controlled) or have medicated goat milk. But out of all the things I think we can rely upon, I think the fundamental ability of humans to be evil and idiotic should caution us against popularizing such gene hacking.
        • Wouldn't some blackhat fire maker simply not do that? At least right now there is a purpose, whether to make a molatov cocktail (which is, by its nature, controlled) or have a camp fire. But out of all the things I think we can rely upon, I think the fundamental ability of humans to be evil and idiotic should caution us against popularizing such fire making.

          fixed.

        • I think Ms. Shetty would also like to caution the public against popularizing computer programming languages, which could lead to self-propagating computer viruses, botnets, and a deluge of spam.

          • I think Ms. Shetty would also like to caution the public against popularizing computer programming languages, which could lead to self-propagating computer viruses, botnets, and a deluge of spam

            ...of which only the most rare kill people.

      • by hajus (990255)

        Where have I heard that before? Gee, they can't synthesize lysine so they'll die in the wild.....

        • Lysine is an amino acid that is fairly common in the wild so yes that part of the movie was stupid. However, there are compounds that are otherwise only found in a lab, most synthetic amino acids for example. These need to be supplied in a lab setting for the organism to survive as they are not found in food sources outside of a lab setting. Several of those handicaps together should be more than enough to make sure that anything we make in the lab isn't going to be doing any time elsewhere that it simpl

    • by Yvanhoe (564877)
      She addresses that in the interview. She says that she thinks the computer/hackers/computer virus metaphor holds water : with a home genetics lab, you could, with some knowledge and much malice, make a dangerous virus. You can also make bacterias that produce medical drugs, treatments. By having a lot of labs you can have people who can identify strains of virus or bacterias in their water, in their food. She doesn't talk about it clearly but what she is proposing is open-sourcing drugs. What about it ?

      Th
    • by Bobnova (1435535)
      Go a step above algae to crayfish and we've already created one that spells disaster for any body of fresh water it's introduced to, google Marbled Crayfish.
      The fun parts:
      Reproduces without needing a second crayfish. That's right, it quite literally clones itself, 10-40 times per monthly batch of eggs.
      It is largely non-hostile to it's offspring.
      It lives and reproduces in water from ~40*f to ~90*f.
      It, like most crayfish, eats everything, especially plants.

      The really interesting part is that nobody ac
  • OpenWetWare.org (Score:5, Informative)

    by ForexCoder (1208982) on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @01:42PM (#26889591)
    http://openwetware.org/wiki/Main_Page [openwetware.org]

    This is the info sharing site for bio-hackers. Has everything from courses for the gene-script kiddies to protocols and other neat stuff. It's a better resource then the corporate site for those who want to know about it.
  • Uber Geekery (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jason Levine (196982) on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @01:44PM (#26889615)

    Now that's what I call Uber Geekery. Instead of the tiring work of brushing your teeth, you get minty fresh breath by hacking the smell of the bacteria in your mouth.

    • Instead of adapting to the world she really did make the world adapt to her. That is actually pretty impressive.

  • Apart from her crowning achievement of getting bacteria to smell like mint and bananas If we could just get the bacteria cultures that create yogurt to taste like mint and bananas, then we could produce yogurt with no added flavoring!
    • by nizo (81281) *

      Screw mint, I want bacon flavored everything!

    • by wizardforce (1005805) on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @01:58PM (#26889877) Journal

      or produce the needed vitamins for the human body. it's been tried with limited success... the probelm seems to be getting the bacteria to take hold in the gut rather than just expelled from the body. the field is called probiotics but requires some engineering so it's a bit of both fields. imagine making enough vitamin D not to ever have rickets or vitamin C to prevent scurvy or even destroying toxins like Melamine. Which by the way is why cows can do ok with melamine in their diet, their gut bacteria breakdown melamine and produce useful nitrogen containing molecules using it as a nitrogen source.

  • by Yergle143 (848772)
    As a working biochemist/molecular biologist I cringe at her la-de-da attitude. Making bacteria smell like bananas is cute, so is making a glowing mouse (green fluorescent protein). But abuse is a centimeter away (cloning botulism toxin into the flu virus anyone?) Where I work I have to justify just about everything I do. That's a good thing. If you want to hack biology get into plant breeding... 537
    • If you want to hack biology get into plant breeding

      Feed me, Seymour, Feed me.

    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      If we took that approach to electrical engineering we would still be flying kites in thunderstorms to play with electricity. If mechanical engineers did that we would be making roads from stones and bridges from wood. Get over it, so your machines are squishy, big whoop.

    • by MarkvW (1037596)

      First, the human race has to get past the fools who will genetically engineer something devastating just because they can.
      Second, the human race has to get past the madmen bent on self-destruction accompanied with the destruction of the human race.
      Third, the human race has to get past those people who will immunize their group from a devastating virus/bacteria that they unleash on the rest of the human race.

      Can we get past all this?
      Can we get past all this without serious invasion of our personal liberty?

      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        Yet, we still have nuclear power, gunpowder, and fire.
        So yeah, we can manage.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by MarkvW (1037596)

          Gunpowder and fire are not likely to wipe out the human race.

          Nuclear weapons can wipe out the human race, but only if unleashed in massive quantities or in quantities sufficient to cause devastating climate change like nuclear winter. Someday, some whackjob is going to detonate a nuclear device, but the whackjob won't wipe out the whole human race in the process. Biological weapons can do just that.

          Many people can't keep their hands off weapons. They love them. And what gets made eventually gets used.

    • But abuse is a centimeter away (cloning botulism toxin into the flu virus anyone?)

      What you just said is a lot more than a centimeter away. That's at least 4 years of hard, expensive work right there (for now anyway). And that would probably still be less effective at mass terror, by a longshot, than a pipe bomb or gun.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Ok, I know this is a bit off topic, but brainy indian girls are just oh so hot!

  • Why am I imaging a dystopian world where we are buying genetic 'upgrades' ala bioshock suddenly becoming much closer to reality.
    • by genner (694963)

      Why am I imaging a dystopian world where we are buying genetic 'upgrades' ala bioshock suddenly becoming much closer to reality.

      That's just the Plasmid Blues. You just need to slow down a bit on the splicing. Before you know it, you'll be as right as rain. Remember, a smart splicer is a happy splicer.

  • They're my friends, Roy. I made them.

  • I recall the first application was glow-in-the-dark aquarium fish. But its a mjor tool in bio-marking now. It won Nobel prizes last year.
    This years toy is next years Nobel Prize?
  • Or Kamandi, the last boy on Earth. Whichever post-apoc scenario it is, caused by people playing around with this kind of stuff.

    Not that I'm opposed to genetic engineering as a whole, I just realize there's all sorts of consequences to it.

  • What could possibly go wrong?

    • just as much as any other technology with great power. nitroglycerin can blow things up but it can also treat heart problems, nuclear energy can vaporize whole cities or it can kill cancer and produce clean power, synthetic biology can kill millions through germ warfare or it can cure disease, wean the US off oil, start us on a good path toward synthetic nanotechnology and many other things. The thing to remember is that anything can be used for good and as a weapon, the choice is ours. The technology in

      • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

        by jimbobborg (128330)

        Nitroglycerin explosive is not the same as nitroglycerin for heart problems.

        • by Moldiver (1343577)

          Actually it is - only a lot more diluted. There are no 2 different kinds of 1,2,3-trinitroxypropane...

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Wake me when someone has hacked the THC gene into the tomato. Just imagine the possibilities - a pizza that gets you high AND alleviates the munchies.

    In all seriousness though. Wouldn't it pretty much end the marijuana legalization debate if somebody spliced THC genes into something as common and innocuous as the tomato? Or perhaps something invasive (and edible) like kudzu [wikipedia.org]...

    [Posted anonymously so I can still pass the Google-test with potential employers.]

  • by Locke2005 (849178) on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @02:17PM (#26890235)
    ...getting bacteria to smell like mint and bananas... I think her real hidden agenda was to get the bacteria that favor warm, moist regions of the human anatomy to smell like anything other than sushi... a male scientist would never have thought of this approach.
    • I think her real hidden agenda was to get the bacteria that favor warm, moist regions of the human anatomy to smell like anything other than sushi... a male scientist would never have thought of this approach.

      She's indian, they don't smell like sushi on indians, they smell like achar. [wikipedia.org] And, speaking from experience, any guy who has had a mouthful of that has wished it tasted like altoids instead. But every indian girl I've ever met is practically addicted to the stuff, even the ABCDs.

    • by Zerth (26112) on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @04:31PM (#26892867)

      Of course not. A male scientist would look for a urinary tract infection that made salt & vinegar dressing taste like chocolate.

    • by Koiu Lpoi (632570)

      a male scientist would never have thought of this approach.

      More like "a scientist would never have thought of this approach", because this is actually incredibly simple. Almost any undergrad biology student knows how to do this, they'd just need the lab. Nobody's done this professionally before because it'd be considered a waste of time.

  • With all the doom saying here anything would think nature designed prefect disease free humans, and genetics could only worsen things. Fact is human are not built to last, and have million of seperate dieaases all needing cures.

    Rapid prototyping of biological systems, if it could be done as easier as a prototyping plastic, would be wonderful. Imagine a new disease discovered and resistant human cell/DNA, being manufactured within a couple of weeks. Doubt we'll get that though. What we might get at best

    • by Starcub (527362)

      Imagine a new disease discovered and resistant human cell/DNA, being manufactured within a couple of weeks.

      I'm reminded of a former MD I had who lamented over the prospect of widespread use of anti-bacterial soaps which are now ubiquitous on store shelves. I suspect it wont be long 'till the next super-bacterium is discovered to be causing a range of new diseases.

      Historically speaking, every generation has thought that it's latest scientific advancement would bring the cure to it's diseases. However, it has borne true that diseases have a way of evolving just as fast as the scientific advancements. I see

  • I wonder how long it'll take us to near perfect the cell phone and then decide to add it directly into our ears or something. (Where would be a matter of engineering or style.) Presto techo-telepathy added to the human genome. I think that we could really do it in less than a hundred years.

    There are days that I wonder how long it'll take us to do that and then have most of our current tech apparently vanish in landfills and such and not be replaced. Give it a few generations and people would "forget" that w

  • In Forbes months ago (Score:3, Informative)

    by olddotter (638430) on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @03:25PM (#26891497) Homepage

    She was in Forbes magazine months ago (unless I get Forbes and Wired confused). Nope, google confirms it was Forbes and it was Aug. of 2008. [forbes.com]

    Yea I find this both scary and REALLY cool. To read more about these technologies, read this blog post [blogspot.com] of links to similar stories.

  • More than smells (Score:4, Interesting)

    by TimmyDee (713324) on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @03:44PM (#26891841) Homepage Journal
    I was just at the AAAS conference in Chicago, and there was an entire session on synthetic biology and programming with DNA and RNA. Quite fascinating. Perhaps most intriguing (and promising) is the ability to add logic to RNA sequences, giving clinicians control over cell therapies. I wrote a summary of the session over at Ars [arstechnica.com] if anyone is interested.
  • by jockeys (753885) on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @04:05PM (#26892277) Journal
    So she's invented Shetty mint and Shetty banana. Pretty sweet.

    But will she ever bioengineer a Shetty wall? Will the goddamn Mongorians break down her Shetty wall?
  • Juan Enriquez talked about this research in his talk at TED this year. Just posted today: http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/juan_enriquez_shares_mindboggling_new_science.html [ted.com] He argues that the next big evolution in technology -- wetware hacking -- is going to eclipse the financial crisis.
  • For my first project, I changed my own blood type. I now have blood type C, a previously non-existent alternative to A or B. Now the Red Cross never asks me to donate blood, since nobody else would be able to receive it!
    • Yep but if you end up in surgery with severe internal bleeding you're screwed.

      Not that O blood won't work they just won't give it to you because of your selfishness.

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