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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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  • Re:BAD idea (Score:4, Interesting)

    by durrr ( 1316311 ) on Friday October 15, 2010 @11:43AM (#33908758)

    What happens when your neighbor releases his new organism by accident?

    You'll end up with green flourescent beer and bread.
    Seriously though, microbes are not rabid dogs, most of them are not virulent, most of them don't live in humans, and even if they do they have quite a few problems before they can colonize you. And if you're to suffer from them they need to produce some kind of toxins. And if you're to wreak havoc with them you need to weaponize them, and if you're at this stage you've probably done enough to see a FBI-sponsored surge in the profits of the local take-away coffee chain.

  • soon to follow... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by AffidavitDonda ( 1736752 ) on Friday October 15, 2010 @11:49AM (#33908826)
    I could accept Biohackers, but the next step would be Bioscriptkiddies...
  • don't see the link (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 15, 2010 @11:52AM (#33908852)

    I don't see the link to hobbyist computers and electronics. People do not buy a computer to "tinker with" unless they are already quite familiar with using them for real work. (Or games, whatever, but actual tasks). Someone who is familiar with biotech probably has at least a 4 year degree in it. They realize that if they want to do this kind of stuff (tinker aka research), they need millions (billions) of dollars, or they need to be in a university/professional lab. They don't want to spend 1000$ on a no frills PCR machine. That is akin to spending $1000 to build your own cdrom drive instead of buying one. a cdrom drive is about as exciting as a pcr machine (if you don't know, a pcr machine is essentially a programmable heat block). They are talking about seriously low level science here.

  • Re:Just great... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by wizardforce ( 1005805 ) on Friday October 15, 2010 @12:16PM (#33909120) Journal

    As a biologist let me say that that is ridiculous. It's like creating a highly efficient piece of malware on accident. However, back to the GP's post: it doesn't need to be deadlier than nature; nature after all, has evolved organisms that are overkill- it just needs to be mildly effective to be a problem.

  • Ultravision (Score:4, Interesting)

    by gurps_npc ( 621217 ) on Friday October 15, 2010 @12:22PM (#33909226) Homepage
    The human eye contains rods and cones to see color. Rods detect light at 498nm frequeny, short cones peak at 420 (purple), medium cones peak at 534 nm (green) and long cones peak at 564 nm (red).

    But birds have cones that can see far greater. Some birds can see as low as 375 nm. This lets them see ultraviolet.

    How hard would it be to find the gene that lets birds make this kind of cone cell and add it to a human? Breed for UV colorblind birds, compare their DNA with birds that can see UV, sample the DNA and try it out on a monkey first.

    P.S. the human lens tends to block light at frequencies of around 380, so we might only be able to see down to 385 nm, but that is still a boost of 35 nm, greater than the difference between green and red.

  • Re:Ultravision (Score:3, Interesting)

    by durrr ( 1316311 ) on Friday October 15, 2010 @12:33PM (#33909386)
    Adding more color pigments within the range of normal color vision is also beneficial in that it allows for more subtle nuances of existing colors to be discerned.
  • Re:Just great... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by HungryHobo ( 1314109 ) on Friday October 15, 2010 @01:07PM (#33909846)

    How many people do you know who accidentally tripped while coding an application and unintentionally programmed a virulent computer virus?
    Bio viruses are orders of magnitude more complex, it's exceedingly unlikely to happen by random chance.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 15, 2010 @01:22PM (#33910068)

    I like to do things myself: make bread and cheese, build my own computers and do landscaping, build sheds, chop firewood, knit, sew, try to repair everything I own at least a couple of times before I admit defeat.

    It's what I like to do.

    Earlier this year I was diagnosed with adult onset type 1 diabetes, and ever since I've been slowly realising that I'm completely dependent on modern society's medical system. This in itself is OK, but I have been tinkering with the idea of attempting to "produce" (I realise this could mean extract, or synthesise, or ...) my own insulin. It wouldn't have to be much and I don't even know if I'd attempt to inject it myself, although I would attempt to get its structure and purity verified so that at least I knew I'd done it right.

    This is just an open-ended question: if there are any molecular biologists out there could they suggest the easiest method for me to attempt insulin production at home?

    Assume I have the chemistry and technical skills to perform distillations, run a PCR machine, know when to use a fume hood, handle solvents and acids without killing myself, that kind of thing.

    Suggestions welcome!

  • Re:Just great... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jbengt ( 874751 ) on Friday October 15, 2010 @02:05PM (#33910606)
    You a optimistically assuming that the "author" of the virus (software or bioware) starts from scratch. More likely they play with an existing virus and unthoughtfully modify it in a way that make it worse for people, even if also worse for the virus' purposes.

"Wish not to seem, but to be, the best." -- Aeschylus