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Biotech Science

DIY Biologists To Open Source Research 147

Posted by Soulskill
from the meatware-hacking dept.
destinyland writes "Falling costs and garage tinkering are creating a grass roots movement of amateur biologists whose research is more transparent than that of academia. They are building lab equipment using common household items and even synthesizing new organisms, and their transparency also allows the social pressure which creates more ethical research. DIY Bio.org fosters lab co-ops for large equipment and provokes important discussions. (Would it be ethical to release a homegrown symbiote that cures scurvy in hundreds of thousands of people?) This movement could someday lead to bottom-up remedies for disease, fuel-generating microbes, or even a social-networked disease-tracking epidemiology. 'In much the same way that homebrew computer science built the world we live in today, garage biology can affect the future we make for ourselves,' argues h+ magazine, which featured the article in their summer issue."
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DIY Biologists To Open Source Research

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  • Really, if they are THAT good at research, then why not at a university?

    • by sjs132 (631745)
      oops... Should be "bottom-up", I should of previewd that... Point is, unless they are researching beer bio, then why are they not in a university or some funded research unless they don't know what they are doing, are crackpots, or just goofing around.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        I should of previewd that...

        You just keep digging yourself in deeper.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by TibbonZero (571809)
        The concept isn't to doing ground-breaking research per-se, but to bring everyday biology to the masses. Rarely are people doing research in universities or with biotech firms interested in teaching and making available techniques cheaply to the masses and making it something that everyone can access. Also a severe leaning toward open source isn't common with 'big bio' research either.
      • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Nothing wrong with doing some fun research on my own. For example my scientific interests lie in determining mutation rates of several local strains of HIV - and it's a lot of fun to run PCR on DNA samples of my fellow coworkers in a basement. It is also much easier to test things on human subjects, no need for FDA approvals ! Little do the little devils know that they are literally sacrificing their lives for the science !

        • I bet the pages of history are littered with physicians that tested their stuff on themselves first. Kinda "Back to the roots" movement?
      • Re:Bottem up? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 20, 2009 @01:00PM (#28403111)

        Maybe they're folks who got Biology undergrads and ended up in medical or, GASP! software development because that's where the opportunities were.

        There are only so many academic posts available. Also, many folks don't want to work in the "publish or perish" environment, the academic BS environment, or the simple fact that they just didn't want to be professional scientists.

        To put it in perspective; how many amateur software developers do you know? You can ask the same thing about them. And we all know why one would rather be an amateur developer than a professional one!

      • by MrMr (219533)
        Are you insinuating that beer bio is not academic or fundable research?
        Tell that to him [wikipedia.org], or to this guy [wikipedia.org], or to that one [wikipedia.org]
      • Point is, unless they are researching beer bio, then why are they not in a university

        I'd have thought researching beer bio at University would be ideal - you are close to one of your largest markets! Having seen one research group study the physical properties of ice cream (apparently for an industrial producer of the stuff) why not research beer. Indeed there are already groups doing this [computerworld.com].

    • Re:Bottem up? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Jurily (900488) <jurily@@@gmail...com> on Saturday June 20, 2009 @01:02PM (#28403121)

      Really, if they are THAT good at research, then why not at a university?

      Because you shouldn't have to.

      • by jd (1658)

        The theory behind universities is that you can pool resources, share data, collaborate easily and largely ignore the limitations of the "real world". If you look up the history of Cambridge University, you'll see that that includes niceties like laws.

        (For those not wanting to bother, Cambridge University was founded by Oxford University lecturers and students fleeing a lynch mob after the University tried to become the law. It's also said to have involved students being freer with the local lasses than loca

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Jurily (900488)

          When garage developers out-University the Universities, one must ask if Universities are following their obligations towards learning and understanding. If they are not, honouring those obligations, maybe we should dispose of them and replace them with groups that can.

          If I choose to write an Open Source application using my $300 Dell laptop instead of attending a university with the latest and greatest hardware, has the university failed?

          Honestly, I don't understand this notion that universities should be the repository of all knowledge and research in the age of the internet. I could have a bigger collection of books in two days (probably less, but factor in the seeders too) than the local university has.

          Just because the university has the expensive tools, the cheap one

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by jd (1658)

            Not sure about your local university, but the John Rylands Library of the University of Manchester started with 40,000 titles and is now over the 4 million mark. And, to be quite frank with you, I regard that as being the bottom-of-the-barrel minimum for a University - especially in Britain, given that it's a day's trip to Hay-on-Wye (one of the few places you'll find more books than Amazon.com).

            Secondly, sure you can write an Open Source application using your $300 Dell laptop. And within a matter of days,

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by spikenerd (642677)
      Historically, universities ignore "research" done by any person w/o a Ph.D. To the extent that this is a useful bias, your question is well posed and these guys will never emerge from the shadow of University research. To the extent that the usefulness of such a bias is becoming antiquated, this is how reform begins and how those that cling to dying models become irrelevant.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        universities ignore "research" done by any person w/o a Ph.D

        Academic researchers tend to ignore "research" which is not published in peer-reviewed journals. I've never had a journal ask to see my degrees.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by nospam007 (722110)

      More important, why does the article not have the whatcouldpossiblygowrong tag?

  • OMG! Genetically modified organisms! KILL STABBITY STAB STAB DIE DIE DIE DIE! burnthewitch

    really, um, exactly what sort of "social pressures" do they propose exist which will lead to more "ethical research"?

    • by goombah99 (560566)

      Really, after all we know how the open source software ended all hacking and virus building right?

      • by Bigjeff5 (1143585)

        I don't know that I've ever heard of an open source virus (could be wrong), if there really aren't that completely disproves your point. If all viruses were open source, they wouldn't exist.

        However, open source software tends to be well maintained when it is widely used. You could equate the transperancy that allows for that with the ethics question in bio-engineering. Though, it will be dictated largely by popular pressure, which isn't always the best.

        • http://www.metasploit.com/ [metasploit.com]

          Not generally malicious, but it is malware lego.

        • by HiThere (15173)

          I remember reading about one that contained a GPL license. Don't remember if it contained the source code or not.

          Interesting question: If you catch a GPL virus that is only being distributed as binary, are you guilty for copyright violation when it redistributes itself?

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by ae1294 (1547521)

            Interesting question: If you catch a GPL virus that is only being distributed as binary, are you guilty for copyright violation when it redistributes itself?

            Ahhhh SNAP! It's time for the Kazza and bit-torrent MP3 virus!!!

            Step 1. Take existing bot.net code and add utorrent with registry settings to start in hidden mode.
            Step 2. Have it set to automatically download mp3's via rss or something.
            Step 3. Distribute to the pleebs.
            Step 4. Pleebs become seed servers.
            Step 5. Watch RIAA sue all the pleebs.
            Step 6. Watch everyone in the world get really pissed off.
            Step 7. New defense, My system had that damn virus.
            Step 8. No Profit for dem guys!

            Step 9. Move to underground l

    • by jd (1658)

      Ummm, they're being pressured into biologically re-engineering Hollywood movies, and the corresponding reduction in brain torture will lead to an improvement in ethics?

    • by nospam007 (722110)

      really, um, exactly what sort of "social pressures" do they propose exist which will lead to more "ethical research"?

      Killing thousands of people is frowned upon.

  • by nbauman (624611) on Saturday June 20, 2009 @12:57PM (#28403101) Homepage Journal
    From TFA http://hplusmagazine.com/articles/bio/darning-genes-biology-homebody [hplusmagazine.com] :

    h+: There has been a lot of discussion about the dangers of people doing this sort of research at home. Do you think this is over-exaggerated?

    MP: I really do. The chances of someone accidentally creating a dangerous organism and the chances of it surviving in the environment outside a laboratory are vanishingly low.

    Rudy Rucker has a great quote on that, "I have a mental image of germ-size MIT nerds putting on gangsta clothes and venturing into alleys to try some rough stuff. And then they meet up with the homies who've been keeping it real for a billion years or so." The bare facts of it are that there's nothing random about synthetic biology research. When we design a transgenic organism, we're deliberately adding one specific piece of new functionality, maybe a small pathway that leads to a new piece of functionality -- and the organism has to expend energy on producing the new proteins that those new genes code for. Because of this, the synthetic organism is necessarily less competitive than its wild-type relatives who are much better suited for the niche they already occupy in the environment.

    So any accidental release is fated to die out within a few generations, because itâ(TM)s just not competitive enough.

    That's right. When rabbits were introduced in Australia, they died off right away because they were less competitive than their wild-type relatives who were much better suited to the niche they already occupied.

  • DIY, meet DEA (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) * on Saturday June 20, 2009 @01:03PM (#28403127) Homepage Journal

    I wouldn't worry about "DIY biologists" cooking up some terrible superbug that wipes us all out. I would, however, worry about these biologists' personal safety. If they want to crunch data at home, no problem, but if they're trying to set up actual home labs, then there is a pretty good chance that at some point they will find their doors being broken down by armed men who are notorious for their lack of willingness to listen to reasonable explanations as to why there's all this glassware lying around.

    • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

      by Bigjeff5 (1143585)

      Really? I didn't know chemistry was illegal. I know certain chemicals are highly regulated, but not any kind of chemistry itself.

      I wonder how all those science fair projects and high school chemistry labs sneek by under the nose of these government watchdogs?

      See sig. I've been getting good use out of it lately.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by argent (18001)

        I wonder how all those science fair projects and high school chemistry labs sneek by under the nose of these government watchdogs?

        Sometimes they don't [io9.com].

      • Re:DIY, meet DEA (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) * on Saturday June 20, 2009 @01:44PM (#28403433) Homepage Journal

        Really? I didn't know chemistry was illegal. I know certain chemicals are highly regulated, but not any kind of chemistry itself.

        I wonder how all those science fair projects and high school chemistry labs sneek by under the nose of these government watchdogs?

        See sig. I've been getting good use out of it lately.
        --
        "So, in other words, you're completely fucking wrong, you idiot retard. God bless." - ShakaUVM

        High school chemistry labs: the lab equipment is kept, you know, in the high school, not in the students' homes. And in fact high school chemistry has been getting steadily watered down for years. If you're anywhere around my age (40) or older, you may remember in high school working with some fairly dangerous chemicals, staying in the lab after class to finish up an experiment, etc. That doesn't happen any more, as my kid can tell you. High-schoolers are treated like third-graders in chemistry class. Granted, most of this is due to the Think Of The Chiiildren crowd rather than the drug warriors, but the mentality is really much the same.

        Science fair projects: again, you may be remembering chemistry sets you could get as a kid that made it possible to do some pretty cool stuff. Try getting comparable sets these days. You can't. Oh, they still sell things called "chemistry sets," but both the chemicals and the equipment are carefully designed to be as useless as possible.

        And yes, damn it, if you buy more than a minimal amount of utterly trivial lab equipment for personal use, there is a very good chance that the DEA (or its equivalent in your home country, if you're outside the US) will break down your door and use the presence of the equipment by itself (without having to find any actual drugs or drug precursors) as an excuse to arrest you, seize your property, and make your life hell for years to come.

        So in other words ... well, really, your .sig says it all. I suggest you sit down, read it carefully several times, burn the words into your brain, and consider carefully how it might apply to you the next time you're planning to make such an aggressively ignorant post.

        • by Stormx2 (1003260)

          While Britain's police are generally paranoid, I've never had any problems with watered-down chemistry. I didn't take chemistry after age 16 (optional), but took physics instead, and we have no problem getting our hands on radioactive materials if we ask nicely, even if it's for out-of-class work (though it'd need to take place in the classroom). I guess I'm fortunate to go to a pretty old school that's been doing chemistry for donkey's years, and hence has fought off any attempt to water down its resources

        • Re:DIY, meet DEA (Score:4, Insightful)

          by greyhueofdoubt (1159527) on Saturday June 20, 2009 @02:51PM (#28403863) Homepage Journal

          I think your reaction is a bit too knee-jerk. I have a great interest in all scientific fields, and as a result I own a LOT of scientific equipment. Microscopes, glassware, obscure-looking dyes and chems, breadboards and little electronic components, miles of wire, books explaining incidentally how to do 'bad' things, powerful lasers and magnets, etc. etc. Welding and brazing equipment, gasoline, propane, MAPP, mercury and lead, gunpowder and primers, flares- these are among some of the things I have on my property. And I do have some leftovers from my childhood chemistry set which might not let you mix up a batch of meth or HDX but you can do some interesting things (and more importantly, LEARN things). The FBI has not shown up, and neither has the DEA. Homeland security has been quiet about it. The police department hasn't visited.

          I own many guns, a lot of ammo, some sharp knives, and some radioactive materials. You can buy your own radioactive materials, legally, from United Nuclear. Google them. They also provide many of the interesting chems that you might remember from your childhood. I also built (but operate legally, as a test set) an fm osc/amp set. The BATF, the NRC, and the FCC have all failed to show up.

          Without leaving my house I could make any number of destructive devices, but I wouldn't do that because I'm an adult. I use my stuff to learn by experimenting. Again, the main idea is that the education is more important than the fireworks. I understand that keeping a 10-year-old's attention can be difficult, hence the spectacular (but educationally vapid) experiments for kids that age. But if a teenager can't understand or be impressed by demonstrations and explanations of buffered solutions, the speed of light, or cell mitosis... I have to say that maybe science just isn't for them.

          fwiw, I just ordered 20 pounds of tannerite explosive *legally* and it was on sale. My point with all of this is that although science may be hard to find in our classrooms, it is NOT gone. You have to go looking for it but it is still legal and still for sale and if you want your kid to share your high school chem experiences, you can do it at home- and you won't find it at toys-r-us.

          -b

          • by kybred (795293)

            Microscopes, glassware, obscure-looking dyes and chems, breadboards and little electronic components, miles of wire, books explaining incidentally how to do 'bad' things, powerful lasers and magnets, etc. etc. Welding and brazing equipment, gasoline, propane, MAPP, mercury and lead, gunpowder and primers, flares- these are among some of the things I have on my property. And I do have some leftovers from my childhood chemistry set which might not let you mix up a batch of meth or HDX but you can do some interesting things (and more importantly, LEARN things).

            Is that you Adam [wikipedia.org]?

        • It's too bad meth addicts have fucked up home science for all of us.
    • I hope that's not the case. I'm living in the house (soon) with one of the guys running the Boston group :) But the workshop in the basement is mainly just for woodworking and electronics- at least so far.
    • at some point they will find their doors being broken down by armed men who are notorious for their lack of willingness to listen to reasonable explanations as to why there's all this glassware lying around.

      Well, I would hope that cooking meth would not be the top illegal experiments. It's been a long time since true pure LSD unadulterated with strychnine and other "fillers" was widely available. A little top drawer Window Pane would be nice.

  • I read this yesterday. The 5 minute DNA extraction guide mentioned is awesome. It's incredibly simple. I think I might give it a try sometime this week.
    http://www.instructables.com/id/5_minute_DNA_Extraction_in_a_Shot_Glass/

    Hopefully we're on the cusp of big breakthroughs in biology that will eventually (and soon) give us the science to stay healthy for much longer than we have been able to in the past.
    • by greyhueofdoubt (1159527) on Saturday June 20, 2009 @03:04PM (#28403925) Homepage Journal

      I've done this very successfully using liver instead of spit. You get much more dna that way, since you're using chunks of cellular matter instead of just a few stray epithelial cells.

      A few words of advice- Use everclear instead of rum. Get it as cold as possible; I used a salt/ice bath. The colder the better. Instead of pouring the alcohol into the glass, decant it using a glass stirring rod or something similar ( http://www.csudh.edu/oliver/demos/gravsulf/pour-r2.jpg [csudh.edu] ). Do this as slowly as possible. Pre-chill your stir rod to keep the alcohol cold. If you use cellular matter like liver or meat, grind it with a mortar and pestle. A spoon and a bowl will work in a pinch.

      It is a very neat experiment to do with kids around, since you can see the results and there's nothing too toxic involved.

      -b

      • by jd (1658)

        Drinking everclear also results in DNA extraction from your liver, apparently.

      • by Daemonax (1204296)
        Great, thank you for this.
      • I've done this very successfully using liver instead of spit.

        You'll probably also have good results using strawberries or other similarly massively polyploid fruit. (They're good because they're often more than 4N, and don't have as much cellulose as some other things. (And they certainly taste better than liver, IMO.)

  • Cure disease
    Provide clean water
    Provide better food

    All increase the world population.
     

    • Yes (Score:3, Insightful)

      by MaizeMan (1076255)
      You don't like what 6.5 billion people are doing to the world now? Wait and see how badly we'd treat it if we were all starving to death.
    • by maxume (22995)

      The global population growth rate isn't particularly subject to abstract conversations.

      I guess focusing on economic security over those things might be worthwhile though, as that seems to actually decrease the rate of reproduction.

    • by brit74 (831798)
      Actually, when people have lower infant mortality and longer lifespans, they tend to have fewer children. When death rates are high, there seems to be some desire to protect the existence of the next generation by having lots of children. Lookup a map of infant mortality and birthrates. Places like Africa, where mortality is high, is where the birthrates are also high.

      All of this leads to the counter-intuitive conclusion: decreasing death rates leads to lower population growth.
    • If less people die, parents don't have to give birth to 10 children so some survive and provide health care for them when they are old.
      More health security correlates with a lower birth-rate.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      And yet, when you're sick, you take medicine. When you're hungry, you get food. When you're thirsty, you have clean water. That's all preventing a decrease in the population. So, claim we should keep the population down. Prove it. Walk the walk, or you're being hypocritical.
       
      Didn't really think this one through too well, did you?

    • suddenly imposing economic sanctions on families with >1 child doesn't seam so harsh (in china anyway), it should also be noted that population growth is much less of an issue inn developed countries and curing diseases would help lots of developing countries out.

  • Am I the only one having visions of Frank Herbert's the White Plague?
    There is nothing wrong with researching at home, but how does one ensure the integrity of a bio filter system at home? The concept of someone 'releasing' a 'cure' for ANYTHING from their basement no matter how well intended simply scares the feces out of me. Can you seriously see a point at which somthing would NOT need WIDE peer review and independent recreation before be 'released into the wild' ?
    As for why someone would

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Bigjeff5 (1143585)

      How does one ensure the integrity of a bio filter system at a random University?

      Here's a hint: You don't. There aren't heavy regulations on this stuff until it gets to the point of mass productionf or public consumption. There are standard practices for safety and such, but these aren't government regulated and can very to a degree among institutions and among researchers.

      There are no regulations regarding home chemistry aside from the control of some classes of chemicals and some types of equipment. Th

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by The_Wilschon (782534)

        There are standard practices for safety and such, but these aren't government regulated

        OSHA et al?

    • by HiThere (15173)

      Three. You forgot economics.

  • by Vesvvi (1501135) on Saturday June 20, 2009 @01:16PM (#28403225)
    It's true that it's possible to accomplish a great deal of biology/biochemistry research using just basic tools: I would say that the single greatest analytical tool in biochemistry is the polyacrylamide gel [wikipedia.org], which can be produced and used with no real specialized training or tools.

    However, we're moving away from such "crude" techniques towards more sophisticated analytical tools, since in many ways biochemistry is now technology-limited. Single-molecule work, such as that pioneered by Carlos Bustamante [berkeley.edu] provide insights that would never be possible with classical methods, and on the other end of the spectrum, we're now working on characterizing the entire network [wikipedia.org] of small metabolite molecules simultaneously and quantitatively [scripps.edu]. This kind of work just isn't easily carried out by amateur enthusiasts.

    That said, there is certainly quite a bit of research that DIY biologists would be capable of performing, especially considering that they could have access to the same kind of resources that professionals do. For example, after amplifying a gene, no researcher will sequence it themselves: it's shipped of to a specialized lab that will do it, for a fee. That sequencing step requires equipment and expertise that's at a higher level than even the pros don't have.

    But regardless of theoretical ability, the professionals retain the advantage that it is their job to work on these projects. The time they can dedicate to their work will be far greater than someone who does it as a hobby.

    Back to the subject of "openness", the professional scientific world isn't nearly as closed-off as the article would have you believe. It is true that there is a persistent fear of being "scooped", but the standards are changing for staking your claim on a particular piece of research.

    It used to be that a full manuscript in a scientific journal was the only thing sufficient to get credit for something. Now, people are gradually embracing online resources are a valid way to communicate, and by extension, to prove that they were the source of any particular bit of publicized material. Even non-finalized material is now more common to make public: Nature has a pre-publication [nature.com] online source for publishing findings, and there are journals devoted entirely to negative results, which was previously unheard-of.

    The walls are coming down, it's just a question of finalizing the transition, and winning over the old guard.

    Disclosure: I am a professional research scientist, one of the younger ones. I have a substantial hardware/software project in the works, which will likely be simultaneously published via classic journal, online website, and software via SourceForge.

    • Not biochemists (Score:5, Interesting)

      by MaizeMan (1076255) on Saturday June 20, 2009 @01:32PM (#28403351) Homepage
      I think you may be drawing too direct a comparison. It used to be that cloning a gene responsibly for a known phenotype was enough for a significant publication. (That was before my time). Now to get prestige in academia you need to map out the surrounding regulatory networks or at least do a lot more work to characterize WHY gene X is creating phenotype Y. I assume the level of complexity required to publish has expanded similarly in biochemistry

      I see the benefits of this DIY work as twofold. First, a huge fraction of genes (in my field, plant biology) are still annotated only as unknown function. Figuring out those functions may not be the path to a career of academic fame and fortune, but I'd really appreciate any group of people who start making a dent in them. But I doubt they'll do a lot of this, they sound a lot more like synthetic biologists. So secondly, in the field of synthetic biology right now a lot of the work being done is very conservative. For example reconstituting a photosystem from an algae in another microbe. If that works it'll be really cool, and tell us a lot about the genetic regulation involved in the process, but it's not as risky as a lot of things these garage biologists are doing. Not risky in a threat-to-human-life-as-we-know-it way obviously, but risky in a this-probably-won't-work way. You try telling a grad student "here's your thesis project, there's a 90% chance it won't work and after four years in the lab you'll have nothing to show for it, you won't publish, you won't graduate, but good luck with that."

      People in garages can afford to fail, and that means they'll potential develop a few useful things that would have been easy to do in a professional lab, but appeared so improbable no one would want to gamble on them.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by LurkerXXX (667952)

      I am a professional research scientist, one of the younger ones.

      I can tell you are one of the younger ones.

      For example, after amplifying a gene, no researcher will sequence it themselves: it's shipped of to a specialized lab that will do it, for a fee. That sequencing step requires equipment and expertise that's at a higher level than even the pros don't have.

      This is complete BS. You simply were never taught the protocols to do it the old fashioned way. I was sequencing my own amplified genes a couple deca

  • by gmuslera (3436)
    Knowing that was sci-fi and everything, still amazed me how people (even childs) in his future vision were able to "self repair" themselves, at the point that medics were treated like car repairmen.

    This DIY Bio looks like going in that direction.
  • I foresee a whole army of self-deluded crackpots peddling "cures" that they discovered in their basements. No doubt, the establishment will ignore them and their ingenious remedies which are sure to shake-up the entire medical industry. Or, at least, that's how they will interpret things.

    > "This movement could someday lead to bottom-up remedies for disease"
    Let's hope they aren't doing any actual testing on humans or animals.
    • Every field has its crackpots. Genetic already has some of our own, check out dnaperfection.com sometime if you don't believe me.

      People who want to survive in the world have to be able to distinguish reality from a crazy persons fantasy. If you can't you'll end up going to homeopathic healers, or installing magnets that make the water in your irrigation system "more evenly polarized," or investing billions of dollars in mortgage backed securities.

      The signal-to-noise ratio is already pretty bad, and this i
  • Don't know much about history Don't know much of biology But I do know I'll infect you With a new strain Of homebrewed flu What a wonderful world This will be
  • 'In much the same way that homebrew computer science built the world we live in today, garage biology can affect the future we make for ourselves

    The homebrew era of the PC lasted a little more than two years.

    By 1977 Apple and Microsoft are in place -
    and the PC is a clearly defined and easily recognizable commercial product no later than the mid-eighties.

    I don't know where the notion of a homebrewed computer science comes from. The clearly dominant players here are the military, the big university and corp

  • Academia (Score:4, Insightful)

    by RockoTDF (1042780) on Saturday June 20, 2009 @02:14PM (#28403659) Homepage
    So just from reading the summary I want to say that I have grown somewhat tired of the attitude towards academia on here. It is not a place of suppressed ideas, incompetent people, publish or perish, and faked results to get more funding. While publish or perish can be very true at the most elite universities, it ain't true everywhere. There are plenty of profs doing good research at upper tier liberal arts schools, teaching only a bit more than they would at UC San whereever. Hell, you can even go to a decent sized research school and not feel like you are in hell. As an UNDERGRAD I worked 60-80 hours a week on classes, grad school applications/related stuff (like the GREs) and working in a lab. It sucked, but I worked longer hours than the majority of professors. I think anyone that earned a decent Ph.D. to get tenure shouldn't complain when they are working less than their students.

    Lack of transparency? The biomedical research industry is far worse on this issue. "Getting scooped" (idea stealing) is only a problem when you are working on a project. Once it is done and sent off for publication or discussed at a conference (or brown bag seminar in your own department) everything is way more open than it would ever be in the corporate world.

    Can't get access to an article? Try scholar.google.com. Many journals allow researchers to post PDFs on their personal webpages, and such documents come up in this search. I went to a liberal arts college with a shit library, and google scholar was how I got work done (That and a zippy interlibrary loan service). No one actually pays $30 to read some article, and if you think that is how the system works then you have been completely duped.
    • Bravo, i'm glad someone out there is defending academics! Sure, it has lots of problems, and it isn't the only source of knowlege out there. But remember that most of the people doing research in the field spent the better part of their lives studying the living hell out of it while being repeatedly tested, scrutinized, and reviewed on the information. They *might* know a little more about the subject that an ABT tinkerer...
      • by RockoTDF (1042780)
        Yep. To add to what I originally said, you will often hear anecdotes on here saying "The guy in my office who dropped out of kindergarten is a better coder than the caltech phd we just hired!" - simply put, if credentials were useless they would not exist. (In reality, cases like these likely occur because the dropout is an expert in some specific language when the Ph.D. might be more well rounded or an expert in something else entirely).

        To be honest, I think a lot of it stems from the fact that young
  • Anyone can do it.
    Spit into a beaker, find some keen organisms, move some DNA around (kits available online), and then flush it down the sink.
    Or maybe insert some plasmids you got from your cat.

    If it turns out interesting you can mail it to your congress critter!

  • Probably the easiest and first, and maybe even the most useful DIY biologist in the yeasts. Creating the best yeast capable of breaking down as must plant matter into alcohol, for biofuels, is a problem which if solved would lead to a multimillion dollar, eco-friendly power source. It not an easy problem, one microbiologist spent 15 years, just adding a gene for breaking down a single wood sugar, xylose. Hopefully it will be easier with modern equipment and genetic knowledge, building a microbe which can
  • While I understand the DIY biologists argument about how wild varieties are inherently more robust than organisms created via engineering, I find it incredibly naive to assume that since something is generally true that it will always be true. With the dangers so potentially devastating, even an extremely low probably event must be accounted for. Advocating less regulation than ham radio is the height of stupidity.

    While it is true that encoding for new introduced proteins is probably going to be energy w
    • there is always some remote chance the new process could confer some sort of unintended selective advantage, allowing it to flourish. Adding to this danger is that many microorganisms swap genetic code via non-sexual methods as well, allowing for even more chance of unintended conference of advantage. All this ignores the possibility of malicious intent as well, and while it would be rare it isn't impossible.

      Oh stop it.

      You might as well store all of your feces and the spit after you brush your teeth inst

    • by RockDoctor (15477)

      Startling lack of respect for unanticipated dangers

      [spelling corrected - you didn't have your spelling checker enabled for the title field, did you?]
      Which unanticipated danger - that of accidentally creating a Ripley-fancying Alien (extremely low probability), or that of being shot by the neighbours or the authorities when they come to smash down the gates to your garage and burn your house. I mean castle. I mean Schloss. And that should be "stab you with pitchforks" instead of "shot". Castles and pitchfork

  • It's more like, "What could possibly _grow_ wrong..." DIY Biology/Chemistry isn't like it was when I was a kid, that's for sure. And, it is kinda scary to think about someone making a mistake, or even cognitively do on purpose.
    • So you're afraid of some guy in his basement working with biologicals - wondering if the next Andromeda strain isn't just around the corner. Consider this and feel safer: The same technology and supplies has been available to nasty persons who really do want to cause harm (and no, I don't mean Steve Ballmer) for many a year. See any horrid human kind killing plagues floating around? It's not easy to create nasty things when you're trying to. Doing it accidentally really is pushing the boundary of the U
  • do-it-yourself (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Goldsmith (561202) on Saturday June 20, 2009 @04:49PM (#28404605)

    When it comes to research, I hate that phrase: do-it-yourself. Who else is going to think your thoughts for you?

    Frankly, just like with astronomy, if you can do the research, you're part of the club. Period. I don't think there needs to be any distinction between DIY hobbyist science, academic research and industrial science. There's good research and there's not-so-good research. If you can purify a protein in your garage that no one else has been able to, then the NIH should be happy to post your procedure and contact information somewhere.

    • DIY, at least in the US, has connotations in addition to its obvious meanings. The connotations are that of the everyman, with determination, a few good books, and good old elbow grease, building something that only "the big boys" can build, and getting useful output out of it.

      When people talk about DIY, they're talking about something that the ubiquitous "yous" of the world can do, not something that a properly educated "you" + a multimillion dollar research facility with insanely expensive equipment can

      • by Goldsmith (561202)

        There was a time when science was seen as the ultimate DIY profession, but now there's this idea that that particular mindset doesn't apply to science anymore, and it bugs me (obviously). Your definition of a DIY everyman is my definition of a good, average level scientist.

        Look at astronomy, hobbyists really are able to compete with academic astronomers in terms of resources, and the collaborations between hobbyists and professionals are great! Very, very few scientists actually have multimillion dollars

  • If they were ordinary biologists researching at home people here would scorn them for potential dangerous experimenting at home environment

    I bet if Hitler had open sourced nazism, people here would accept it with cheers.

    Hitler mentioned, thread end

    .

  • I'd like to point out that there are large numbers of untrained people engaging in largely unsupervised DIY Bio [wikipedia.org] that is FAR more advanced than anything done in any professional laboratory.

    Further, this activity has resulted in the release of extremely [wikipedia.org] dangerous [wikipedia.org] organisms [wikipedia.org] being released into the wild.

    Oh. Wait. This is Slashdot. No worries about anyone here doing that.

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