DIY Genetic Engineering

Meredeith Patterson is a computer programmer by day and biohacker at night. She is among a new breed of DIYers who are trying to do genetic engineering at the comfort of their own homes:

Using homemade lab equipment and the wealth of scientific knowledge available online, these hobbyists are trying to create new life forms through genetic engineering — a field long dominated by Ph.D.s toiling in university and corporate laboratories.

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.

"People can really work on projects for the good of humanity while learning about something they want to learn about in the process," she said. [...]

But critics of the movement worry that these amateurs could one day unleash an environmental or medical disaster. Defenders say the future Bill Gates of biotech could be developing a cure for cancer in the garage.

Link (Photo: Noah Berger/AP)

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This information is definitely available at the university level, as well as at some forward-thinking and sufficiently well-equipped high schools with biotech programs. I agree that a culture that encourages open publication of results and an oversight board that helps to guide researchers with ethical and safety issues are two things that help such university programs flourish and be useful.

However, people will still do biology in home labs, and I'd love to see them offered the same kinds of resources.

I'd encourage anyone interested in the discussion of certifications to join in at:

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Perhaps humanity will be saved, when the mutantant DIY genetic diseases will get into a fight with the grey goo nanomachine clouds over control of the Hadron collider, and will all destroy each other.

We can only hope....

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@ Jason Morrison,

Safety and education is available at any college or university! Truthfully, all these people could easily do what they desire if they found the right lab and adviser, who would also help get them the proper equipment and funding. Even at the Master's level, you can ask to do independent work.

My other thoughts:

Why do I support research in Universities controlled by departments and those who provide funding? This means that MOST researchers have to document and share their research. Universities want people who will publish for the scientific community, attracting fame and money.
Also, there is a rigorous, independent ethics board at every university that is there to protect us from people doing dangerous and hazardous experiments. Their sole purpose is to protect the rights of humans and animals that may be affected by what an independent researcher does in their lab. (YES, it might sound odd to say, but there is a high level of independence even in academic labs).

Think tanks and corporate labs are the places of which I am afraid.
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