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The Spread of Do-It-Yourself Biotech 206

zrbyte writes "Are you an electronics hobbyist or a garden shed tinkerer? If so, then move aside, because there's a new kid on the block: the DIY biotechnologist. The decreasing price of biotech instrumentation has made it possible for everyday folks (read: biotech geeks) with a few thousand dollars to spare to equip their garages and parents' basements with the necessary 'tools of the trade.' Some, like PCR machines, are available on eBay; other utensils are hacked together from everyday appliances and some creativity. For example: microscopes out of webcams and armpit E. coli incubators. Nature News has an article on the phenomenon, describing the weird and wonderful fruits of biotech geek ingenuity, like glow-in-the-dark yogurt. One could draw parallels with the early days of computer building/programming. It may be that we're looking at a biotech revolution, not just from the likes of Craig Venter, but from Joe-next-door hacking away at his E. coli strain. What are the Steve Wozniaks of biotech working on right now?"
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The Spread of Do-It-Yourself Biotech

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  • Just great... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by KarrdeSW ( 996917 ) on Friday October 15, 2010 @11:33AM (#33908648)
    Now I have to worry about the my idiot roommate engineering a virus that'll cause the zombie apocalypse?
  • Re:Just great... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by interkin3tic ( 1469267 ) on Friday October 15, 2010 @11:42AM (#33908754)

    You should be more worried about your idiot roommate not washing his hands and getting you sick the old fashioned way. It's unlikely that even if he tried, he could make a disease more lethal than what nature has produced before.

    By the way, those people who think HIV was created in a government lab seriously underestimate how cleverly made HIV is. It's way beyond our best evil geniuses.

  • Re:Just great... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bhartman34 ( 886109 ) on Friday October 15, 2010 @11:47AM (#33908806)

    It's unlikely that even if he tried, he could make a disease more lethal than what nature has produced before.

    It's not the idea of someone trying to make a disease that worries me. What worries me is the idea of someone moroning it up and accidentally producing something dangerous because they don't know what they're doing. The well-meaning idiot scenario is almost certainly more likely than the evil genius scenario.

  • Re:BAD idea (Score:2, Insightful)

    by bhartman34 ( 886109 ) on Friday October 15, 2010 @11:54AM (#33908872)
    History is replete with examples of people doing things because they could, without considering the question of whether or not they should. It's almost certain that someone will rush headlong into a project like this without adequately preparing for contingencies. It's no different than someone buying a gun and being lax about gun safety.
  • by elewton ( 1743958 ) on Friday October 15, 2010 @12:01PM (#33908950)
    I get loads of old lab equipment from the 80s that's being thrown out now, but still work pretty well or require minor repair. Many are more of a hassle than modern equipment, but some of it what I was using when I was in college.
    I don't GM organisms, but selectively breed fungi.

    I believe that it is only a matter of little time until someone releases a harmless virus into the population that contains the first 13 primes or an ASCII message. When this is discovered, the population will correctly be concerned about home-made bioweapons.
    Even if the Biocracker isn't smart enough to engineer a new, virulent plague (and they will eventually, hopefully after targeted anti-virals are practically synthesized quickly) they could impair an old deadly virus to only be effective on specific immunodeficiencies in a cell line of an enermy.
    The Biotech world of the future will be a world of wonders and horrors.

  • Re:BAD idea (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bhartman34 ( 886109 ) on Friday October 15, 2010 @12:05PM (#33909000)
    Just as a quick clarification: I don't mean to sound anti-gun. Everyone has a legal right to own a gun if they want to (subject to certain restrictions). I was just pointing out that there are people who don't take it quite as seriously as they should. Regardless of whether you think guns kill people or people kill people, it's undeniable that a person with a gun can kill people, so guns should be treated with due care.
  • Re:Just great... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by IICV ( 652597 ) on Friday October 15, 2010 @12:22PM (#33909230)

    Not very likely. Evolution is like a trillion monkeys hammering away at potential genomes; if creating one that was viciously deadly to humans were easy, it probably would have happened already. One more monkey hammering away at it won't change much.

  • by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Friday October 15, 2010 @12:27PM (#33909310) Journal

    You underestimate the amount of low hanging fruit left. And with the progress of technology, there's even more low hanging fruit now than there was 30 years ago. Yes, you need large grants if you're doing cutting edge research. But if you're doing something that's been ignored by researchers because it's not directly connected to a disease process, for instance, then you might find it relatively cheap to produce novel results.

  • Re:Scary (Score:4, Insightful)

    by durrr ( 1316311 ) on Friday October 15, 2010 @12:39PM (#33909490)

    What makes you think we can do better?

    Ignorance. Having no actual detail knowledge of the process of genetic engineering will make you assume that there's a single well known gene encoding for Spore-forming-antibiotic-resistant-universal-substrate-utilizing-bacterioviral-immune-system-bypassing-Death-plague.

    And they are right, every idiot will now be able to mix two ingredients together to create a pathogen so vile and soul-wrenchingly evil that the sun will go nova the very second that they open the lid of their petri dish. Really!

  • Re:Just great... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bhartman34 ( 886109 ) on Friday October 15, 2010 @12:48PM (#33909598)
    It's not a question of efficiency, necessarily. It's a question of possible unintended consequences. It's fairly difficult to write a highly-efficient piece of malware. It's fairly easy to accidentally do something destructive. It's why people are not encouraged to run programs as root on their machines. Do I think someone's going to accidentally create a superbug through their own tinkering? No. But can you tell me it's impossible someone gets a hold of a pathogen and it doesn't accidentally escape, or worse, mutate into a different strain, and then escape? That's where I see the potential for danger.
  • Re:Just great... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by HungryHobo ( 1314109 ) on Friday October 15, 2010 @01:28PM (#33910150)

    The *mutate and escape* scenario is far more likely to happen at your local farmyard as regular old viruses cross speciese back and forth mutating as they go.
    Yet I don't ever see people terrified that a farmer will accidentally kill us all.

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