Last June I wrote a short piece on biohacking, prompted by a UK report on the social and ethical challenges of synthetic biology. At the time, I though the aspirations of the nascent biopunk community naively optimistic, but potentially worrying. Six months on, biohacking is hitting the mainstream press—and gaining momentum.
Maybe it was just a slow news day. Maybe the subject had substance. Either way, a story posted yesterday by the Associated Press on home-style genetic engineering has attracted quite a bit of attention over the new services.
The story revolves around Meredith L. Patterson—a 31-year-old computer programmer who is trying to develop genetically altered yogurt bacteria that glow green to signal the presence of melamine—that most recent of food-contaminants. According to the article, Patterson
“learned about genetic engineering by reading scientific papers and getting tips from online forums. She ordered jellyfish DNA for a green fluorescent protein from a biological supply company for less than $100. And she built her own lab equipment, including a gel electrophoresis chamber, or DNA analyzer, which she constructed for less than $25, versus more than $200 for a low-end off-the-shelf model.”
And if you think that sounds far out, try the group DIYBio for size. Co-founded by Mackenzie Cowell, a 24-year-old who majored in biology in college, the Cambridge Massachusetts group is setting up a community lab where people can use chemicals and lab equipment according to AP—including a used low temperature freezer, scored for free off Craigslist! Read the rest of this entry »