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Biotech Science Technology

Amateurs Are Trying Genetic Engineering At Home 245

the_kanzure points out this AP story on amateur genetic engineering, excerpting: "The Apple computer was invented in a garage. Same with the Google search engine. Now, tinkerers are working at home with the basic building blocks of life itself. Using homemade lab equipment and the wealth of scientific knowledge available online, these hobbyists are trying to create new life forms through genetic engineering a field long dominated by Ph.D.s toiling in university and corporate laboratories." Reader resistant has a few ideas about how to use this sort of lab: "Personally, I'd like to whip up a reasonably long-lasting and durable paint made with dye based on squid genes that glows brightly enough to allow 'guide lines' to be daubed along hallway baseboards, powered by a very low trickle of electricity. Plus, a harmless glowing yogurt would make for a cool prank."
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Amateurs Are Trying Genetic Engineering At Home

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  • Re:Is this legal? (Score:3, Informative)

    by conrad_halling ( 1335699 ) on Thursday December 25, 2008 @04:52PM (#26231471) Homepage
    In Cambridge, Massachusetts, home of Harvard, MIT, and more than 50 biotech companies, you must have a recombinant DNA permit before you can manipulate genetic material. Here's the link if you want to apply: []
  • by rritterson ( 588983 ) on Thursday December 25, 2008 @05:21PM (#26231583)
    Sorry, the missing word at the end of my post was supposed to be a link to Synberc []. I munged the HTML, even though I previewed my post.
  • by geek ( 5680 ) on Thursday December 25, 2008 @05:37PM (#26231665)

    Viruses aren't easy to engineer, most (like 99.999%) would never survive the process. The viruses we see today evolved over thousands and millions of years to survive our environment. If you think any old scientist can create something better than mother nature did in their garage then you need to take some science classes.

  • Re:Terrorism (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 25, 2008 @06:43PM (#26232011)

    It will soon be banned, much as anything else remotely scientific at home is in the process of becoming.

    Next, just having the knowledge will get you on a watched list.

    Why is this modded troll? This is happening all over the US and in other places around the world!

    One only need to look at the decline in things like active ingredients in chemistry sets for an example.

  • Re:Hmm. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Deagol ( 323173 ) on Thursday December 25, 2008 @09:28PM (#26232697) Homepage

    Don't laugh, my friend.

    The USDA is already trying to force a livestock registry and ID program on private individuals: []

    And I heard that they were contemplating a seed registration program, though I can't seem to track that down right now.

    With the invisible hand of the big agribusiness (Monsanto and the like), it may very well be illegal to propagate your own plants and animals in the future (or at least not without paying the fees to register your stock with The Man). From what I hear, Monsanto is actually buying up independent seed cleaners and shutting them down, so that farmers are forced to buy from the only large seed cleaner left: Monsanto with their illegal-to-save seeds. While the jury is still out on the safety of GMO foods, there is a thriving demand for non-GMO and hierloom varieties, and Monsanto is trying very hard to eliminate the suppliers of such.

    Scary world.

  • Re:Is this legal? (Score:3, Informative)

    by calmofthestorm ( 1344385 ) on Friday December 26, 2008 @01:24AM (#26233425)

    Ideally, yes, but not all GM crops are sterile. I've grown several varieties of GM tomatoes and bird peppers, and while their seeds have terrible germination rates, they do produce plants that produce fruit. It's similar to what you see with hybridized crops.

  • Re:Disclaimer: IAAMB (Score:3, Informative)

    by Thing 1 ( 178996 ) on Friday December 26, 2008 @11:11AM (#26234889) Journal

    Yeah, whereas these days, anyone can have a processor manufacturing plant in their garage!

    Although I think you left off the sarcasm tag, I do agree with you:

    The people working on the RepRap [] project are currently working on the second generation 3D printer. The first generation prints in silicone. The second generation will print that as well as a conducting material, which has a melting point lower than the silicone; that way the silicone can be formed with grooves and channels, then the conducting material laid in them as traces to produce electronics.

    Sure, the initial results will be clunky and seem very old-tech, likely not even the equivalent of the 8086. However, as others mentioned, technology tends to become both cheaper and doable by smaller and smaller groups of people.

  • Re:Hmm. (Score:2, Informative)

    by danudwary ( 201586 ) on Friday December 26, 2008 @01:26PM (#26235585)

    Actually, this is technology several years out of date. This is how we would have done it when I was in grad school, ten or so years ago. Nowadays, it would be amazingly trivial, *IF* the biosynthetic pathway has been elucidated, which is the first step above. A quick search on PubMed says it either hasn't been done (complex plant biosynthetic pathways is a tricky subject for study), or else it hasn't been reputably published. Or it's been repressed through regulatory mechanisms I'm not familiar with.

    Personally, I'd probably just go ahead a sequence the cannabis genome. Today, you could probably do this for less then $150,000. Which sounds like a lot, but a few years ago this was a magnitude more expensive. A few more years and who knows? If you're able to do a $1000 human genome at some point in the next few years, you could do a plant for a similar price. Then you conduct bioinformatic analysis of the sequence to find the right genes. Difficult, but FAR easier and less expensive than protein purification.

    If the pathway genes were known, it would only take a few thousand dollars to synthesize DNA that encodes the pathway, which could be tailored to whatever organism you want to express the pathway in. I'd try baker's yeast first. The organism is well understood, and you could make beer or bread.

    All of this could be done today with a computer if you had the bioinformatics knowledge to do the analysis, and the sequencing and synthesis through commercial companies with a credit card. How do I know? I do this with antibiotic pathways.

The primary function of the design engineer is to make things difficult for the fabricator and impossible for the serviceman.