Biohackers - Genetic Engineering Home Hobbyists

Genetic engineering is the latest hobby for those tired of macrame and fly-tying. They use homemade equipment and online knowledge to create new and improved organic forms.

(Genetic engineering at home with Meredith Patterson)

Meredith Patterson, computer programmer, is trying to develop genetically altered yogurt bacteria that will glow green to signal the presence of melamine. You may recall the scandal regarding melamine and Chinese-made food. She learned about genetic engineering by reading scientific papers and getting tips from online forums.

In Cambridge, Mass., a group called DIYbio is setting up a community lab where the public could use chemicals and lab equipment, including a used freezer, scored for free off Craigslist, that drops to 80 degrees below zero, the temperature needed to keep many kinds of bacteria alive.

Co-founder Mackenzie Cowell, a 24-year-old who majored in biology in college, said amateurs will probably pursue serious work such as new vaccines and super-efficient biofuels, but they might also try, for example, to use squid genes to create tattoos that glow.

Cowell said such unfettered creativity could produce important discoveries.

"We should try to make science more sexy and more fun and more like a game," he said.

Many "biohackers" have no advanced degrees, no rigorous scientific training and no experience in maintaining safe biohazard containment. What could go wrong?

Not to be negative, but I do recall The White Plague, a 1982 novel by Frank Herbert. It's the only Frank Herbert novel I've only read once. In the story, a heartbroken molecular biologist works out of his home to create a virus to revenge himself on IRA terrorists who killed his wife and child in a random bombing. He engineers a plague that kills nearly every woman on Earth, as well as the females of many mammalian species.

From Yahoo News; thanks to an anonymous reader for finding this story and sharing it.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 12/26/2008)

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