Homebrew genetic engineering

Tom James @ 27-12-2008

We’re beginning to see the earliest signs of the “garage startup” genetic engineering company:

In her San Francisco dining room lab, for example, 31-year-old computer programmer Meredith L. Patterson is trying to develop genetically altered yogurt bacteria that will glow green to signal the presence of melamine, the chemical that turned Chinese-made baby formula and pet food deadly.

Regardless of what any particular hobbyist or entrepreneur is actually looking for, if you have enough people experimenting there is a good chance they will find something remarkable (what Nassim “black swan” Taleb calls “stochastic tinkering“). Unfortunately there is also a downside:

Jim Thomas of ETC Group, a biotechnology watchdog organization, warned that synthetic organisms in the hands of amateurs could escape and cause outbreaks of incurable diseases or unpredictable environmental damage.

Here’s hoping a balance can be struck between regulation and innovation.

[article from Physorg][image from frankenstoen on flickr]

Man investigated by feds for making nuclear reaction in bedroom

Tomas Martin @ 14-01-2008

The FBI swooped into a house in Rockwall, Texas when it emerged a gamer and physicist enthusiast was trying to create a small nuclear reaction in his house using Uranium.

“People do it in universities all the time,” the man said. “It’s just not usual that somebody does it outside of a university. These things are in your tap water, you know, in the dirt. You could hold a Geiger counter up to a banana and get a count off of it.”

It just goes to show how the internet helps to spread information – the man learnt how to make the mini nuclear reactor using online resources and then the FBI learned he was doing it via his online blog posts about his house doubling in radioactivity.

EDIT: In a similar ‘normal guy gives governments a scare’ vein, it looks like the recent confrontation between US patrol boats and Iranian Revolutionary Guard in the Straits of Hormuz may in fact have been a hoax by a local radio ham who regularly pranks passing ships.

[via Gamespot News]