Garage ribofunk – the rise of homebrew genetic engineering

Paul Raven @ 15-05-2009

digital rendering of DNAHere’s another story that keeps bouncing back… and receiving progressively more paranoid coverage the closer it gets to mainstream news sources, too. That said, a certain amount of concern about biohacking or DIY genetic engineering is probably sensible – as much as most of the hobbyists brewing up weird bugs in their broom-closets are the sort of cheery can-do geeks who want to help, the ever-lowering barriers to entry of these technologies mean that it wouldn’t take much for someone with more nefarious purposes in mind to get themselves started:

… some researchers and law-enforcement officials have raised red flags. In a paper published in Nature Biotechnology in 2007, a group of scientists and FBI officials called for better oversight of so-called synthetic DNA, an ingredient widely used by professional biologists and hobbyists, saying it could theoretically lead to the creation of harmful viruses like Ebola or smallpox, since their genomes are available online. “Current government oversight of the DNA-synthesis industry falls short of addressing this unfortunate reality,” the paper said.

Ms. Aull, who lives with a cat and three roommates who are “a little bit weirded out” by her experiments, says the worries are overblown. DIY biologists are trying to “build a slingshot,” she says, “and there are people out there talking about, oh, no, what happens if they move on to nuclear weapons?”

Other biohackers argue that Mother Nature is more likely than any home hobbyist to create dangerous new pathogens. They cite the current A/H1N1 “swine flu” virus, which is a made-in-the-wild brew of human, bird and pig influenzas. Mackenzie Cowell, a founder of DIY Bio, says members aim to do good and are committed to working safely.

Frankly, I’m quite surprised that this movement hasn’t been stamped on more thoroughly and quickly; the post-9/11 world hasn’t exactly been kind to anything that can raise a pulse (and sell newspapers) simply by having the word ‘terrorism’ bolted on to it. Perhaps the DHS see themselves in a future alliance with the Shapers against those pesky Mechanist kids from cyberspace[via PosthumanBlues; image by ynse]

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