Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Hey, Biohackers: This Blog is for You, Too!

Hacking is fun. Most people think of hacking as involving breaking into computer systems. But in its broadest sense, hacking means roughly taking an existing system and fiddling with its parts to make it do something it wasn't designed to do. It's fun. And it can be a good way to learn. It's also sometimes illegal, and sometimes dangerous. Bah, humbug!

From the Wall Street Journal: In Attics and Closets, 'Biohackers' Discover Their Inner Frankenstein
In Massachusetts, a young woman makes genetically modified E. coli in a closet she converted into a home lab. A part-time DJ in Berkeley, Calif., works in his attic to cultivate viruses extracted from sewage. In Seattle, a grad-school dropout wants to breed algae in a personal biology lab.

These hobbyists represent a growing strain of geekdom known as biohacking, in which do-it-yourselfers tinker with the building blocks of life in the comfort of their own homes. Some of them buy DNA online, then fiddle with it in hopes of curing diseases or finding new biofuels.

But are biohackers a threat to national security?...

Dunno about that last question. But I do know that amateur biohackers aren't going to easily fall under the auspices of regulatory agencies. And they're typically not going to be members of professional associations with formal codes of ethics. So let's hope that organizations/websites like DIY Bio ("...an organization that aims to help make biology a worthwhile pursuit for citizen scientists, amateur biologists, and DIY biological engineers who value openness and safety") help to foster, among their members, discussions not just of the science and technology of genetic engineering, but of the ethical issues too.


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