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)

Good for them.

30 years ago my mother created genetically altered tropical fish to change their coloration. It was hobby stuff done by a college professor with a love of fish and supply of mutagenic materials. None of the exaggerated horror stories occurred.
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The real fun stuff is going to start happening when we start getting a library of DNA codes that we can start using as programming language. For example, going online and grabbing the pre-written stuff to metabolize sucrose, and throwing that into your genetic program to add that functionality to your creature.
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I invite all of the doomsday scenario mongers to do some independent research, genetic engineering has been criticized at every stage that it would lead to the destruction of humanity, decades later we're still here.
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@ George

I think that is why the US Government and several others will actively look upon raiding such "amateur" labs because they fear how and what they will end up producing.
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Glad to hear it! Is there somewhere we can read more about her work?


You might be interested in looking into the emerging field of synthetic biology. Take a look at and for a library and standard of reusable, composable DNA parts.


That's certainly true. I think it's paramount to focus on making education and safety information freely and openly available to amateurs.

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The problems begin in two arenas.

1. Crap-bat Crazy people
2. Crap-bat Dumb people

I worry more about number 2. Dumb people... well... do dumb things. I once read about a guy who was cultivating edible mushrooms (reishi, maitake, and oyster) and got some mold infestations. He became so enamored with this issue that he began cultivating and sustaining various molds in his rental home where he was living, as to better understand them.


Now, if a guy like this starts genetically engineering things, problems occur. Big problems. Problems that kill people. There is a reason that people go to school and get degrees for this stuff. It's not just to educate them on how to do it. It's so that and institution can analyze behaviors in a controlled setting and weed out the number 1's and the number 2's.
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Scary. Scary. Scary.

Go find a copy of Frank Herbert (yes, the 'Dune' author) book "The White Plague" from 1982.

A bit dated since its about a scientist who decides to get back at the IRA for killing his family in a bombing, but in the forward he says he was scared at just how EASY it would be to kill off a major portion of the human race in a kitchen with a few tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment that anyone could gather.
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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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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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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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