Please create an account to participate in the Slashdot moderation system


Forgot your password?
Biotech Science

DIY Biologists To Open Source Research 147

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 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."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

DIY Biologists To Open Source Research

Comments Filter:
  • Re:Bottem up? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TibbonZero ( 571809 ) < minus cat> on Saturday June 20, 2009 @01:52PM (#28403051) Homepage Journal
    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:Bottem up? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 20, 2009 @02:00PM (#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!

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

    by Jurily ( 900488 ) <<moc.liamg> <ta> <yliruj>> on Saturday June 20, 2009 @02:02PM (#28403121)

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

    Because you shouldn't have to.

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

    by Daniel Dvorkin ( 106857 ) * on Saturday June 20, 2009 @02:03PM (#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.

  • Yes (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MaizeMan ( 1076255 ) on Saturday June 20, 2009 @02:15PM (#28403223) Homepage
    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.
  • Re:Bottem up? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by spikenerd ( 642677 ) on Saturday June 20, 2009 @02:33PM (#28403365)
    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.
  • by argent ( 18001 ) <peter&slashdot,2006,taronga,com> on Saturday June 20, 2009 @02:35PM (#28403373) Homepage Journal

    This is more like worrying about toy poodles going feral... in an area that's already got a coyote problem.

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

    by Daniel Dvorkin ( 106857 ) * on Saturday June 20, 2009 @02:44PM (#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.

  • Re:DIY, meet DEA (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 20, 2009 @02:46PM (#28403439)

    Really? I didn't know chemistry was illegal.

    He didn't say it was illegal. He just said that if one of these home biologists or home chemists attracts attention to himself, he might be in for some major inconveniences - e.g., someone searching his house with a warrant granted because of "suspicious substances." Also, you can bet with all the federal, state, and local laws on the books about reporting and storing chemicals, if someone looks hard enough, they can probably find something to complain about in any amateur scientist's basement.

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

    Easy. Because the officious, self-important government types expect to see chemicals and glassware in that context.

    Just because something isn't illegal doesn't mean that some government official can't make your life miserable because of it. It's not illegal to carry around large amounts of cash currency, but many courts will presume that behavior to be related to drug activity.

    Reminds me of a quote I read on /. a while back... "Officer, there are just so many wires in his house, he MUST be doing something illegal!"

  • by ChromeAeonium ( 1026952 ) on Saturday June 20, 2009 @02:52PM (#28403501)

    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?

  • Re:Bottem up? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Daniel Dvorkin ( 106857 ) * on Saturday June 20, 2009 @03:10PM (#28403635) Homepage Journal

    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.

  • Academia (Score:4, Insightful)

    by RockoTDF ( 1042780 ) on Saturday June 20, 2009 @03:14PM (#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 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.
  • Re:DIY, meet DEA (Score:4, Insightful)

    by greyhueofdoubt ( 1159527 ) on Saturday June 20, 2009 @03:51PM (#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.


  • do-it-yourself (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Goldsmith ( 561202 ) on Saturday June 20, 2009 @05:49PM (#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.

  • Re:Bottem up? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Jurily ( 900488 ) <<moc.liamg> <ta> <yliruj>> on Saturday June 20, 2009 @08:52PM (#28406269)

    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 ones still work at home.

  • Re:Bottem up? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jd ( 1658 ) <> on Saturday June 20, 2009 @10:15PM (#28406827) Homepage Journal

    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

    Secondly, sure you can write an Open Source application using your $300 Dell laptop. And within a matter of days, the local University should (if it is doing its job) have obtained a copy, and if it's an application with significant potential, said University should have dissected the logic, assigned students to work on it, and be contributing patches.

    Sir Isaac Newton is supposed to have said that if he could see further, it's because he was standing on the shoulders of giants. University researchers are standing on the shoulders of the best the planet has to offer, whether those "best" are at University or not. If they are not leveraging what you and other people produce, they are not doing their jobs.

    This is less about being the repository of all knowledge and research and more about the fact that (in theory) they know where to look, what to look for, how to look, and what to do once they find something. If they're not looking, and aren't doing anything significant with what they find, then there's something wrong. They don't have to do everything, but they should always be doing something.

  • Re:Bottem up? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by The_Wilschon ( 782534 ) on Sunday June 21, 2009 @02:00AM (#28408185) Homepage
    Now, I'm not far enough along to have refereed any papers yet, but my impression from talking to those who have is that anonymity restrictions mean that the referees don't know who wrote the papers and certainly don't know whether or not they have even a high school diploma. So, how you get a bunch of PhDs to review something seriously is to write a good, thorough description in clear, concise, proofread prose of well done research, and not throw in any unsubtantiated or irrelevant crank-agenda drivel.
  • Re:Bottem up? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by nospam007 ( 722110 ) on Sunday June 21, 2009 @08:07AM (#28409811)

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

Genius is ten percent inspiration and fifty percent capital gains.