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Hacking With Synthetic Biology

timothy posted more than 5 years ago | from the don't-lick-your-fingers dept.

Biotech 135

blackbearnh writes "If you've gotten tired of hacking firewalls or cloud computing, maybe it's time to try your hand with DNA. That's what Reshma Shetty is doing with her Doctorate in Biological Engineering from MIT. Apart from her crowning achievement of getting bacteria to smell like mint and bananas, she's also active in the developing field of synthetic biology and has recently helped found a company called Gingko BioWorks which is developing enabling technologies to allow for rapid prototyping of biological systems. She talked to O'Reilly Radar recently about the benefits and potential dangers of easy biological design, why students should be hacking wetware, and what's involved in setting up your own lab to slice genes."

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Bill Joy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26889509)

Isn't this the kind of thing that Bill Joy got all freaked out about...

Woot (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26889535)

I am first! The Anon. Coward.

anonymous coward (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26889539)

what

Doesn't this sound like... (5, Interesting)

Rog-Mahal (1164607) | more than 5 years ago | (#26889545)

A recipe for disaster? Sounds like a pretty easy way for people to start making some nasty superbugs. I know all scientific innovation has that kind of risk, but I don't think I want my neighbor hacking E. coli next door.

Re:Doesn't this sound like... (5, Funny)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 5 years ago | (#26889863)

Are you kidding? This will revolutionize the world. Your neighbor (not mine), in an attempt to show that you can't even FORCE nature to make a crocoduck will inadvertently create an airborne strain of E. coli that is resistant to any cheap form of treatment: resulting in a solution to rising unemployment and illegal immigration in less than 38 hours. The resulting global changes will be heralded as Allah's revenge against the great satan and simultaneously on the GLBT communities for their crimes against god. In less than a week, big pharmaceutical industry will collapse with the announcement that a 15 year old Korean kid in S.California has created an antidote that can be distributed in the flavor coating on potato chips. Frito Lay purchases several Pharma companies and hires the kid to work on gene therapies to be distributed via Corn Chips. Monsanto sues to block genetically modified material being added to their corn........ sigh

Re:Doesn't this sound like... (3, Funny)

Ucklak (755284) | more than 5 years ago | (#26890063)

I want to see a cat with wings in active pursuit of prey.

I would also like to see these http://www.genpets.com/index.php [genpets.com]

Re:Doesn't this sound like... (3, Interesting)

mehemiah (971799) | more than 5 years ago | (#26890657)

I would also like to see these http://www.genpets.com/index.php [genpets.com]

That has to be the most shocking thing I have ever seen. I almost couldn't judge how serious it was until someone called my attention. Im sure its just a plot to get page hits but... WTF?? After the shock wheres off, you realize how fake it looks.

Re:Doesn't this sound like... (1)

nextekcarl (1402899) | more than 5 years ago | (#26891255)

It looks it could be a good bit of viral marketing for a movie like Gremlins, or something like Planet of the Apes, etc. The About page explains the actual background pretty well.

Re:Doesn't this sound like... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26890049)

This has a potential for good...

And every insane dictator will have his guys working on a way to use it against his neighbors.

It's interesting reading to study some of the cold war experiments of the Soviets.

Re:Doesn't this sound like... (2, Insightful)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 5 years ago | (#26890165)

all technology has a risk of being missued but if we didn't develop any of that tech because of that fear, then we'd never have developed fire out of fear that it could be used to burn down homes. The haber process which keeps 2 billion people fed and alive today was developed to produce nitrogen compounds used to make munitions to kill people. NO tech in of its self is evil, it is how it is used which is evil.

It's less about "evil" as about "safeguards" (5, Interesting)

Moraelin (679338) | more than 5 years ago | (#26890691)

I don't think anyone cringes at exploring technology per se, but at doing so without much safeguards if any. The potential for mass harm is great, and while nobody proposes to outlaw it as such, it would be nice if it stayed only in proper labs and you at least had to tell someone your idea before even starting on it. You know, sorta like the XKCD idea of having your comment read out loud to you so you get a second chance to spot if it sounds bloody stupid.

Basically the same as: I'm not against electricity or nuclear power, but if the neighbour's kid managed to buy ten kilos of plutonium for his science experiment... I'd _worry_.

And here we're talking about something which has historically caused more harm than a nuke before. E.g.,

- repeated smallpox outbreaks seem to have been what weakened the Roman empire in the first centuries AD, to the point of near collapse of its economy and army. (Not to mention making everyone disillusioned with the old gods and ways.) There are outbreaks that are estimated to have killed up to 30% of the empire's total population. _Thousands_ of people died daily in Rome alone, for decades straight. (Though later Justinian's Plague killed about ten thousands a day in Constantinople.)

- ask the american indians how well smallpox worked for them later

- bubonic plague outbursts killed a majority of Europe's population back then, with mortality as high as 75% per outbreak in some cities (though not all.)

- we had a killer flu as late as after the first world war

Knowing that everyone can concoct their own cross between flu and aids with just a couple of relevant genes from the noro-virus for extra flavour, doesn't exactly make me sleep easier.

And before someone goes, "omg, but now we have antibiotics": yeah, but curing viruses is still where we suck. Royally.

And at least theoretically it would be possible to concoct even bacterias which don't respond to antibiotics that well. The easy to explain version is to just start from VISA/VRSA (think MRSA with extra resistances) and give it a gene so it multiplies faster. But for something more advanced for true gurus, why not swap out the proteins attacked by the antibiotics in the first place? E.g., give it the ribosome from an animal cell, and you just rendered a whole class of antibiotics impotent at a more fundamental level than normal bacterial resistances. Might need to recode a couple of other proteins for it to work, but that's why I've said it's for gurus only.

Or get creative. Make a bacteria or virus that can live equally well on plants _and_ animals. Now that'll be a royal pain in the arse to completely root out, and it can safely kill its hosts without making itself extinct.

Re:It's less about "evil" as about "safeguards" (2, Informative)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 5 years ago | (#26894795)

I don't think anyone cringes at exploring technology per se, but at doing so without much safeguards if any. The potential for mass harm is great, and while nobody proposes to outlaw it as such, it would be nice if it stayed only in proper labs and you at least had to tell someone your idea before even starting on it. You know, sorta like the XKCD idea of having your comment read out loud to you so you get a second chance to spot if it sounds bloody stupid.

If you work in a lab, you obviously have to tell your boss what you're up to. If you have your own lab, you're too busy telling the NIH what you've done and why they need to give you more money, to be doing this on the side. If you run into a problem you can't solve, the first thing you do is ask your colleagues for advice. In other words, people know what you're working on, we already talk to each other and hopefully would be able to tell if our colleagues were about to create a supervirus (which, by the way, is unlikely to happen by accident, although it's always good for a horror/scifi movie).

And here we're talking about something which has historically caused more harm than a nuke before.

All the examples you provided were diseases that had natural origins (the smallpox was intentionally spread, but was not created or spread by scientists), which highlights something key here: if there is going to be a killer virus, it's going to be natural. If someone catches an airborn form of ebola and is infectious while in a major international airport... goodnight. Don't worry about the amateurs, the most dangerous and evil biologist is nature itself.

Re:Doesn't this sound like... (5, Informative)

xplenumx (703804) | more than 5 years ago | (#26890297)

I can't say I'm terribly concerned about your proposed scenario. Unlike computer programming, bioengineering takes quite a bit more capital. Let's say you want to insert a protein into a bacteria - first you need to create the cDNA (you'll need a PCR machine or water baths (heh), expensive enzymes, the ability to pipette uL amounts, random primers, and a source of mRNA), then you'll need to isolate the protein's cDNA, next you'll have to clone out the gene (do you have access to a sequencer?), and put the gene in a plasmid that will express the protein (you'll have to buy one as you won't be able to reasonably make one). Let's see, you'll also need amp/kan, LB plates, a warm room, some media, and a shaker (unless you want to use sub-sub-optimum conditons). After this, you'll have to express your plasmid in the bacteria - did I mention that, typically, bacteria that express the protein will be at a selective disadvantage? Wait, you want to stably integrate your protein into the bacterial genome? That's a whole, more difficult, can of worms. So you want to modify a virus... where are you planning on getting the viral vector? What type of virus are you attempting to modify? Some are very difficult to work with. Making one can be a PhD thesis in and of itself. Infecting eukaryotic cells is not easy either - a lot of money is being spent on trying to increase the efficiency for anti-cancer therapy.

Unlike computer programming, these aren't projects that people are (realistically) able to do in their basement. Often we give the simplest experiments (just the cloning part), where all the reagents are present and the knowledge base is easily available, to summer students - and often times they fail. I don't worry about the rogue 'biohacker' next door (all the more power to them - maybe they'll learn something about science). I worry about rogue governments - particulary ones that believe God will protect them.

Re:Doesn't this sound like... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26890695)

None of that machinery is all that hard to make a home version of. It may not be a precise as the expensive lab versions but usable none the less.Most Macs have sequencing software available as well as linux and BSD.

Re:Doesn't this sound like... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26890847)

So in other words this is perfect for the good ol gov't or pharm companies who want to engineer the problem and the solution (Read: $$ and sheeple herding) but not the average Joe who is angry at the world and short a couple of million dollars.

Re:Doesn't this sound like... (1)

rodarson2k (1122767) | more than 5 years ago | (#26891063)

It's realistically doable in your basement. It just requires a lot of startup capital relative to a computer. I've long wanted to play around with garage genetics, and even on my graduate student salary, i've put away enough that i could afford pipet sets, thermocyclers, enzymes, etc. I just dont have the garage. Or enough room in my apt. to put the stuff. Or a really good idea worth spending all this money on. Or a purchasing account with a respectable scientific supplier.

Re:Doesn't this sound like... (1)

spydabyte (1032538) | more than 5 years ago | (#26891215)

She talked to O'Reilly Radar recently about the benefits and potential dangers of easy biological design, why students should be hacking wetware, and what's involved in setting up your own lab to slice genes.

If I'm not mistaken, this is exactly what the article is getting at, how to make it cost less and be easier.

At least they don't ignore what others are saying though, in that there are benefits and dangers.

Re:Doesn't this sound like... (3, Informative)

shipbrick (929823) | more than 5 years ago | (#26891879)

You're making it sound quite difficult and expensive, but I don't think it's really that expensive or difficult. You laugh at water baths, but that would work just fine for PCR, and Taq Polymerase really isn't that expensive (~$100 for lots of rxns). Sure all the kits us biologists use are easy and expensive, but if someone is doing it for a hobby, they can bypass kits and do things "old school" style (where one actually knows what they are doing instead of adding reagent A to reagent B). Also, if someone knew that they are able to this, they could just ask a lab for a plasmid, which the lab might gladly send for shipping cost only (they may have to pretend or imply they have a PhD and lab though). A sequencer is not needed for cloning, you could simply use agarose gels and go by size for cloning (agarose=cheap and a power source could be made easy). You can get pipettes (ul) on ebay for not too expensive (few hundred). Bacteria do NOT need to be shaken either, or even grown at 37C... I've commonly grown e.coli at room temp without shaking (sometimes even to *optimally* express a protein), they just won't grow as fast. Ampicillin and LB isn't very expensive... My university has a surplus store where old or broken equipment goes to be sold for pretty cheap. One could get a fair amount of specialty equipment there, especially if another hobby was fixing equipment. I would guess you could do a cloning for less than $2000 easy (which is cheaper then some computers)...

agreed, however (1)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 5 years ago | (#26892259)

technological progress marches on

your average middle class high school kid can buy $500 HD editting software and a $1K HD camera and have more power in his rec room than the average major hollywood studio in 1969

plus, biology is not limited like chemistry or physics: you might know how to make nerve gas or plutonium, but you still need very expensive materials and equipment well beyond your means as a middle class kid. but all genetic hacking requires is biochemical manipulations around us in every microorganism, and nutrients as cheap as your breakfast cereal (or, your actual breakfast cereal). only technology is limited today, and that is getting cheaper and cheaper every day. 10 years ago, it was a huge deal to sequence the human genome and it took millions of dollars and months. now they are talking about doing it in a few days and for $5K and doing it for individuals to tailor their drug regimen. extrapolate into the future

it's a little scary to think about a future where "script kiddie" and "hacker" could refer to a high school kid who can cook up smallpox or polio in his rec room

Re:Doesn't this sound like... (1)

furby076 (1461805) | more than 5 years ago | (#26892489)

And if you are smart enough to resequence genes to become deadly you are probably trying to resequence genes to be useful...because making a crapload of money and being hailed a hero (note: benefit of being a hero = sleeping with babes) is better then killing a lot of people (including people you may know...like yourself...and babes), being hailed a murderer, and instead of making a crapload of money - lots of people are putting bounties on your head to make a lot of money by killing you (assuming you didn't blunder up and kill yourself).

Re:Doesn't this sound like... (1)

TheLink (130905) | more than 5 years ago | (#26893345)

But think of what will happen if the barrier to entry gets lower.

For some people deadly = useful.

In case you haven't noticed, suicide bombers often kill themselves and a lot of people.

Will the human world be ready for the time when almost everyone can afford the equivalent of a Big Red "Kill Everyone" Button?

People say tech progress is inevitable, but:

1) not all paths have to be taken NOW
2) not all paths can be taken at the same time since we do have resource constraints.
3) many paths cannot be "untaken" once taken.

So I argue that it might be better to do some things later, and more resources allocated to figuring out what those might be.

Re:Doesn't this sound like... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26893667)

Unlike computer programming, these aren't projects that people are (realistically) able to do in their basement.

A scant few decades ago that was true about computer programming as well.

On what basis do you claim we won't see similar changes in economies of scale and availability expansion?

Re:Doesn't this sound like... (3, Informative)

olddotter (638430) | more than 5 years ago | (#26893813)

Did you even think about reading the article? The ultimate goal of this is to make sure that people can do it for little cost. I listen to researchers in the area complain that they can't get grad students to work on a project if there isn't an easy off the shelf kit you can buy to do the work.

A few $1000, eBay, and you can equip a basement lab. This time is to bioscience what the 1970's were to Steve Jobs and Woz. See this ebay search: http://shop.ebay.com/items/_W0QQ_nkwZsequencerQ20dnaQQ_armrsZ1QQ_fromZR40QQ_mdoZ [ebay.com]

Re:Doesn't this sound like... (1)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 5 years ago | (#26890357)

I was just thinking how terrible it would be if these genetically engineering bacteria were to escape into the wild... suddenly, sewer systems everywhere would start smelling like mint and bananas! Can you imaging the uproar when that happens?

Re:Doesn't this sound like... (1)

imamac (1083405) | more than 5 years ago | (#26890643)

Some parent would sue because their not-so-bright youngster went down into the sewer to drink the "nice smelling" water.

Re:Doesn't this sound like... (1)

nextekcarl (1402899) | more than 5 years ago | (#26891329)

You mean minty banana ass smell. Unfortunately, shit mixes with pretty much everything else (if it doesn't just overwhelm it).

Re:Doesn't this sound like... (4, Informative)

cd.rubysocks (1480131) | more than 5 years ago | (#26890975)

I like how she responded to this issue with the word 'democratization'. She doesn't seem to be so worried about some crazy terrorist getting access to this technology, as governments monopolizing it for biowarfare development. And I'm inclined to agree that we should be just as worried about the latter as the former. A few links about this scientist/entrepeneur:
Her Bio [openwetware.org]
Forbes article - DIY Life [forbes.com]
MIT TechTV Video - DIY Biology [mit.edu]

Re:Doesn't this sound like... (1)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 5 years ago | (#26891315)

Sounds like a pretty easy way for people to start making some nasty superbugs.

There are two bigger threats when it comes to dangerous germs the government and nature. People tinkering around with bugs in their home labs generally have no motivation to develop superbugs. It's not like you can create a literal wetware virus that will net you people's credit card information like a computer virus could. And it's not like you could sell a superbug to anyone, the military is probably not going to buy yours, they likely have their own. Those are the ones I worry about.

Most of all though, nature is much better than any microbiologist at making dangerous diseases. If you die in a plague, it's going to be of natural origins spread through airports.

Re:Doesn't this sound like... (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 5 years ago | (#26891681)

I think you underestimate how nasty day-to-day bugs are. We just happen to be very well equipped to deal with them.

I would guess that they are careful to contain any engineered bugs, partly to keep them from acting on the environment, but also to keep the environment from acting on them.

Fine, I'll think of the children (5, Interesting)

jollyreaper (513215) | more than 5 years ago | (#26889581)

Biological tinkering has me concerned because we're talking about self-replicating systems. Realistically, we're not going to see nanite swarms or grey goo eating the whole planet as is feared in science fiction. Nanites have to operate within the same laws of physics as anything else and are unlikely to be spectacularly and magically more robust than organics. Hell, at such a small scale they would be more likely to be custom-designed organics.

That being said, organics ranging from viruses to bacteria to algae can cause quite a bit of trouble in our ecosystem. My only concern is that we might create some sort of blight in the lab that gets out. Now I'm not saying she's deliberately working with stuff that's intentionally meant to be lethal like the biological warfare guys in Russia but even those guys who knew they were messing with absolutely lethal bugs still made mistakes and had accidental releases.

Given that we won't know that something is really bad for us in the environment until after it gets out and starts doing terrible things, I would like to suggest we operate with an abundance of caution here. It wouldn't take an accidental flesh-eating bacteria to ruin everyone's day. The next corn smut or citrus canker could not kill a single person and cost the economy billions.

Re:Fine, I'll think of the children (1)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 5 years ago | (#26889713)

The next corn smut or citrus canker could not kill a single person and cost the economy billions. Shh! You're giving the terrorists ideas! You know how much they hate our oranges and corn!

Wait a minute... "corn smut"?!? I think I've seen old videos of that on the internet...

Re:Fine, I'll think of the children (3, Funny)

rts008 (812749) | more than 5 years ago | (#26890599)

"Two girls, one cob!"

Eww, no thanks, I'll pass.

Re:Fine, I'll think of the children (2, Insightful)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 5 years ago | (#26889785)

My only concern is that we might create some sort of blight in the lab that gets out.

we can also delete/disable genes required for growth outside the lab. As an example, knocking out multiple genes involved in synthesizing nutrients that are not common outside of a lab setting. stack several of these together and the chance the bacteria has of adapting quickly is roughly zero. synthetic biology also allows us to incorporate unnatural amino acids that if not present in the medium, cause protein synthesis to halt at the point missing the correct amino acid. without the amino acid, only smaller snippets of amino acids form rather than the protein and if it is important to the cell, it's going to die.

Re:Fine, I'll think of the children (1)

OctaviusIII (969957) | more than 5 years ago | (#26890507)

Wouldn't some blackhat gene hacker simply not do that? At least right now there is a purpose, whether to make a biological weapon (which is, by its nature, controlled) or have medicated goat milk. But out of all the things I think we can rely upon, I think the fundamental ability of humans to be evil and idiotic should caution us against popularizing such gene hacking.

Re:Fine, I'll think of the children (1)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 5 years ago | (#26890677)

Wouldn't some blackhat fire maker simply not do that? At least right now there is a purpose, whether to make a molatov cocktail (which is, by its nature, controlled) or have a camp fire. But out of all the things I think we can rely upon, I think the fundamental ability of humans to be evil and idiotic should caution us against popularizing such fire making.

fixed.

Re:Fine, I'll think of the children (1)

flaming error (1041742) | more than 5 years ago | (#26890717)

I think Ms. Shetty would also like to caution the public against popularizing computer programming languages, which could lead to self-propagating computer viruses, botnets, and a deluge of spam.

Re:Fine, I'll think of the children (1)

OctaviusIII (969957) | more than 5 years ago | (#26891423)

I think Ms. Shetty would also like to caution the public against popularizing computer programming languages, which could lead to self-propagating computer viruses, botnets, and a deluge of spam

...of which only the most rare kill people.

Re:Fine, I'll think of the children (1)

hajus (990255) | more than 5 years ago | (#26890833)

Where have I heard that before? Gee, they can't synthesize lysine so they'll die in the wild.....

OpenWetWare.org (5, Informative)

ForexCoder (1208982) | more than 5 years ago | (#26889591)

http://openwetware.org/wiki/Main_Page [openwetware.org]

This is the info sharing site for bio-hackers. Has everything from courses for the gene-script kiddies to protocols and other neat stuff. It's a better resource then the corporate site for those who want to know about it.

Re:OpenWetWare.org (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26890797)

actually founder of openwetware, Austin Che, is also founder of the company in discussion.

http://ginkgobioworks.com/team.html

Re:OpenWetWare.org (1)

DyDx2 (1480151) | more than 5 years ago | (#26891147)

Arstechnica had an article over this same topic just the other day: http://arstechnica.com/science/news/2009/02/scientists-learning-to-program-synthetic-life-with-dna.ars [arstechnica.com] As someone who does research in synthetic biology (I'm a first year PhD student), I take issue with the proclivity of tech people to try to use the computer metaphor when talking about synthetic biology. It really isn't that good of a metaphor, and it tends to be stretched to the point where it no longer makes sense. Just look at the arstechnica article; even I had trouble figuring out what the writer is talking about. Synthetic biology is essentially genetic engineering of microbes to create synthetic systems to achieve a particular goal. The computer metaphor just mucks up the dialog and sounds silly, IMO. I loath seeing the term 'hacking' in reference to biology.

Re:OpenWetWare.org (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26891815)

Lord, you too? I'm a Master's student in parasitology, but I've been following synthetic biology for a while, and the computer metaphors drive me insane-- like you say, it's just not very accurate. I thought I was the only one...

Re:OpenWetWare.org (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26894133)

Please buy my new book, Dummy's Guide to Gene Hacking for Stupid, Sloppy and Irresponsible People. I want to make money before some 13 year old accidently kills off the human race. This book is available only in English and not in any Middle-Eastern language. I wanted O'Reilly to publish it but they insisted they would put a picture of Cthulhu on the cover. That would have been so inappropriate. Instead, on my edition there's a picture of Dick Cheney on the front.

This doesn't give me warm fuzzies (-1)

nysus (162232) | more than 5 years ago | (#26889603)

When someone figures out how to create and release a contagious, virulent virii, I think the consequences will be a whole lot worse than botnet spam.

Re:This doesn't give me warm fuzzies (3, Funny)

djp928 (516044) | more than 5 years ago | (#26889937)

Wait, now we're using that made-up plural form of virus as the SINGULAR form? Great.

Re:This doesn't give me warm fuzzies (1)

flaming error (1041742) | more than 5 years ago | (#26891351)

Just wait until I loose my synthetically engineered spelling-nazi bacterii...

Re:This doesn't give me warm fuzzies (1)

furby076 (1461805) | more than 5 years ago | (#26892537)

Oh and when that happens I am pretty sure you will get the "warm fuzzies"..right before you die in orgasmic pain.

Uber Geekery (4, Insightful)

Jason Levine (196982) | more than 5 years ago | (#26889615)

Now that's what I call Uber Geekery. Instead of the tiring work of brushing your teeth, you get minty fresh breath by hacking the smell of the bacteria in your mouth.

Re:Uber Geekery (1)

nextekcarl (1402899) | more than 5 years ago | (#26891407)

Instead of adapting to the world she really did make the world adapt to her. That is actually pretty impressive.

I want a synthetic vagina (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26889629)

It's got to be much less trouble than maintaining access to a real vagina. All the talking and spending, just to taste some poon. It's downright unromantic.

Re:I want a synthetic vagina (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26891027)

If all you're doing is tasting, you might be doing it wrong.

I think she's on to something (1)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 5 years ago | (#26889633)

Apart from her crowning achievement of getting bacteria to smell like mint and bananas If we could just get the bacteria cultures that create yogurt to taste like mint and bananas, then we could produce yogurt with no added flavoring!

Re:I think she's on to something (1)

nizo (81281) | more than 5 years ago | (#26889705)

Screw mint, I want bacon flavored everything!

Re:I think she's on to something (3, Interesting)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 5 years ago | (#26889877)

or produce the needed vitamins for the human body. it's been tried with limited success... the probelm seems to be getting the bacteria to take hold in the gut rather than just expelled from the body. the field is called probiotics but requires some engineering so it's a bit of both fields. imagine making enough vitamin D not to ever have rickets or vitamin C to prevent scurvy or even destroying toxins like Melamine. Which by the way is why cows can do ok with melamine in their diet, their gut bacteria breakdown melamine and produce useful nitrogen containing molecules using it as a nitrogen source.

Hacking Life Danger (1, Insightful)

Yergle143 (848772) | more than 5 years ago | (#26889709)

As a working biochemist/molecular biologist I cringe at her la-de-da attitude. Making bacteria smell like bananas is cute, so is making a glowing mouse (green fluorescent protein). But abuse is a centimeter away (cloning botulism toxin into the flu virus anyone?) Where I work I have to justify just about everything I do. That's a good thing. If you want to hack biology get into plant breeding... 537

Re:Hacking Life Danger (1)

Maximum Prophet (716608) | more than 5 years ago | (#26889791)

If you want to hack biology get into plant breeding

Feed me, Seymour, Feed me.

Re:Hacking Life Danger (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 5 years ago | (#26890065)

If we took that approach to electrical engineering we would still be flying kites in thunderstorms to play with electricity. If mechanical engineers did that we would be making roads from stones and bridges from wood. Get over it, so your machines are squishy, big whoop.

Re:Hacking Life Danger (1)

MarkvW (1037596) | more than 5 years ago | (#26890291)

First, the human race has to get past the fools who will genetically engineer something devastating just because they can.
Second, the human race has to get past the madmen bent on self-destruction accompanied with the destruction of the human race.
Third, the human race has to get past those people who will immunize their group from a devastating virus/bacteria that they unleash on the rest of the human race.

Can we get past all this?
Can we get past all this without serious invasion of our personal liberty?

Re:Hacking Life Danger (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 5 years ago | (#26890399)

Yet, we still have nuclear power, gunpowder, and fire.
So yeah, we can manage.

Re:Hacking Life Danger (2, Interesting)

MarkvW (1037596) | more than 5 years ago | (#26890805)

Gunpowder and fire are not likely to wipe out the human race.

Nuclear weapons can wipe out the human race, but only if unleashed in massive quantities or in quantities sufficient to cause devastating climate change like nuclear winter. Someday, some whackjob is going to detonate a nuclear device, but the whackjob won't wipe out the whole human race in the process. Biological weapons can do just that.

Many people can't keep their hands off weapons. They love them. And what gets made eventually gets used.

Re:Hacking Life Danger (1)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 5 years ago | (#26891469)

But abuse is a centimeter away (cloning botulism toxin into the flu virus anyone?)

What you just said is a lot more than a centimeter away. That's at least 4 years of hard, expensive work right there (for now anyway). And that would probably still be less effective at mass terror, by a longshot, than a pipe bomb or gun.

Brainy Indian girls (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26889737)

Ok, I know this is a bit off topic, but brainy indian girls are just oh so hot!

Bioshock (1)

Coraon (1080675) | more than 5 years ago | (#26889761)

Why am I imaging a dystopian world where we are buying genetic 'upgrades' ala bioshock suddenly becoming much closer to reality.

Re:Bioshock (1)

genner (694963) | more than 5 years ago | (#26894025)

Why am I imaging a dystopian world where we are buying genetic 'upgrades' ala bioshock suddenly becoming much closer to reality.

That's just the Plasmid Blues. You just need to slow down a bit on the splicing. Before you know it, you'll be as right as rain. Remember, a smart splicer is a happy splicer.

Don't be afraid... (1)

paiute (550198) | more than 5 years ago | (#26889781)

They're my friends, Roy. I made them.

bioluminescense was a novelty once (1)

peter303 (12292) | more than 5 years ago | (#26889807)

I recall the first application was glow-in-the-dark aquarium fish. But its a mjor tool in bio-marking now. It won Nobel prizes last year.
This years toy is next years Nobel Prize?

Re:bioluminescense was a novelty once (1)

Lord Ender (156273) | more than 5 years ago | (#26894309)

Those fish weren't bioluminescent. They were just colorful--especially under UV.

I can't wait till After the Bomb comes true... (1)

Puffy Director Pants (1242492) | more than 5 years ago | (#26889839)

Or Kamandi, the last boy on Earth. Whichever post-apoc scenario it is, caused by people playing around with this kind of stuff.

Not that I'm opposed to genetic engineering as a whole, I just realize there's all sorts of consequences to it.

Bad idea (0)

jimbobborg (128330) | more than 5 years ago | (#26889865)

What could possibly go wrong?

Re:Bad idea (1)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 5 years ago | (#26889955)

just as much as any other technology with great power. nitroglycerin can blow things up but it can also treat heart problems, nuclear energy can vaporize whole cities or it can kill cancer and produce clean power, synthetic biology can kill millions through germ warfare or it can cure disease, wean the US off oil, start us on a good path toward synthetic nanotechnology and many other things. The thing to remember is that anything can be used for good and as a weapon, the choice is ours. The technology in of its self is not evil, it is how you use it.

Re:Bad idea (0, Offtopic)

jimbobborg (128330) | more than 5 years ago | (#26891183)

Nitroglycerin explosive is not the same as nitroglycerin for heart problems.

Marijuana/Tomato Hybrid (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26889875)

Wake me when someone has hacked the THC gene into the tomato. Just imagine the possibilities - a pizza that gets you high AND alleviates the munchies.

In all seriousness though. Wouldn't it pretty much end the marijuana legalization debate if somebody spliced THC genes into something as common and innocuous as the tomato? Or perhaps something invasive (and edible) like kudzu [wikipedia.org] ...

[Posted anonymously so I can still pass the Google-test with potential employers.]

Re:Marijuana/Tomato Hybrid (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26892957)

And just as with the Tomacco plant, some Ralph Wiggum will point out that it smells like his grandma.

Re:Marijuana/Tomato Hybrid (1)

MadMidnightBomber (894759) | more than 5 years ago | (#26894229)

Hmmm.. I forsee an endless, unstoppable cycle of pizza-eating.

Linkdump (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26889933)

(AC, so I'm not as much a karma whore)

http://diybio.org/ [diybio.org] - open source hardware, biology, XMLizing lab protocols, the goods.
http://openwetware.org/ [openwetware.org]
http://biopunk.org/ [biopunk.org]
http://syntheticbiology.org/ [syntheticbiology.org]
http://partsregistry.org/ [partsregistry.org]
http://igem.org/ [igem.org] (international genetically engineered machines competition)
http://ponoko.com/ [ponoko.com]
http://shapeways.com/ [shapeways.com]
http://thingiverse.com/ [thingiverse.com]
http://instructables.com/ [instructables.com]
lifeboat foundation [lifeboat.com] (AKA "fearmongers click here")

cat * > /dev/trend-spotting-machine

Not on Slashdot! Not on Slashdot!!! (1)

Abuzar (732558) | more than 5 years ago | (#26890009)

Shudd'na posted da story here... slashdotters... genes... run for your lives!!

Synthetic Biology (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26890231)

Sounds like the plot of Permutation City [wikipedia.org]

Why we need more female scientists (3, Funny)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 5 years ago | (#26890235)

...getting bacteria to smell like mint and bananas... I think her real hidden agenda was to get the bacteria that favor warm, moist regions of the human anatomy to smell like anything other than sushi... a male scientist would never have thought of this approach.

Re:Why we need more female scientists (1)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | more than 5 years ago | (#26891689)

I think her real hidden agenda was to get the bacteria that favor warm, moist regions of the human anatomy to smell like anything other than sushi... a male scientist would never have thought of this approach.

She's indian, they don't smell like sushi on indians, they smell like achar. [wikipedia.org] And, speaking from experience, any guy who has had a mouthful of that has wished it tasted like altoids instead. But every indian girl I've ever met is practically addicted to the stuff, even the ABCDs.

Re:Why we need more female scientists (3, Funny)

Zerth (26112) | more than 5 years ago | (#26892867)

Of course not. A male scientist would look for a urinary tract infection that made salt & vinegar dressing taste like chocolate.

Re:Why we need more female scientists (1)

Koiu Lpoi (632570) | more than 5 years ago | (#26894445)

a male scientist would never have thought of this approach.

More like "a scientist would never have thought of this approach", because this is actually incredibly simple. Almost any undergrad biology student knows how to do this, they'd just need the lab. Nobody's done this professionally before because it'd be considered a waste of time.

Calm down (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26890331)

Who do you trust more? A grad student with a budget and vast lab resources, or a guy in his garage with few skills and fewer lab tools?

How does being enrolled in school preclude one from unethical and/or illegal behavior?

How would someone in their garage succeed where state sponsored programs have failed?

We've TRIED to introduce GM organisms into the wild and failed EVERY TIME. Remember when they developed that mosquito that wouldn't transmit malaria?

Its just fancy chemistry. Calm down.

Re:Calm down (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26891533)

We've TRIED to introduce GM organisms into the wild and failed EVERY TIME.

Well, yeah. They're bankrupt. Once someone introduces Toyota organisms into the wild, look out!

re: Reshma Shetty (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26890627)

I'd hit it.

Enough with the doom saying, i want my cures. (2, Interesting)

physburn (1095481) | more than 5 years ago | (#26890653)

With all the doom saying here anything would think nature designed prefect disease free humans, and genetics could only worsen things. Fact is human are not built to last, and have million of seperate dieaases all needing cures.

Rapid prototyping of biological systems, if it could be done as easier as a prototyping plastic, would be wonderful. Imagine a new disease discovered and resistant human cell/DNA, being manufactured within a couple of weeks. Doubt we'll get that though. What we might get at best is a new economy segment based on brewing, with genetically engineered yeasts be produce pharmaceuticals and other chemicals cheaply. Yeast is the ideal for the purpose because is grows so quickly, and is used in enclosed environments.

Re:Enough with the doom saying, i want my cures. (1)

Starcub (527362) | more than 5 years ago | (#26894347)

Imagine a new disease discovered and resistant human cell/DNA, being manufactured within a couple of weeks.

I'm reminded of a former MD I had who lamented over the prospect of widespread use of anti-bacterial soaps which are now ubiquitous on store shelves. I suspect it wont be long 'till the next super-bacterium is discovered to be causing a range of new diseases.

Historically speaking, every generation has thought that it's latest scientific advancement would bring the cure to it's diseases. However, it has borne true that diseases have a way of evolving just as fast as the scientific advancements. I see no reason why it wouldn't be the same in the realm of genetics. The planet couldn't sustain life free of disease, I don't think our society can adapt to the changes that would be required to get there -- and I'm sure someone is running the show.

Oh Great (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26891045)

Soon Windoze will loose its title as number one malware target ... On the other hand, just maybe some of those adds for larger appendages just might work. I don't know if this is bad news or good news. ;-)

oh She's Indian (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26891067)

She's Indian, she will have H1 in future, she will take jobs from American....she's not brilliant, she's just cheap to hire...

Hmm... (1)

kabocox (199019) | more than 5 years ago | (#26891137)

I wonder how long it'll take us to near perfect the cell phone and then decide to add it directly into our ears or something. (Where would be a matter of engineering or style.) Presto techo-telepathy added to the human genome. I think that we could really do it in less than a hundred years.

There are days that I wonder how long it'll take us to do that and then have most of our current tech apparently vanish in landfills and such and not be replaced. Give it a few generations and people would "forget" that we hadn't always had those abilities. (Sort of like how folks forget how that there was life before newspapers, TV, radio, cell phones, or computers.)

In Forbes months ago (2, Informative)

olddotter (638430) | more than 5 years ago | (#26891497)

She was in Forbes magazine months ago (unless I get Forbes and Wired confused). Nope, google confirms it was Forbes and it was Aug. of 2008. [forbes.com]

Yea I find this both scary and REALLY cool. To read more about these technologies, read this blog post [blogspot.com] of links to similar stories.

yes- just move one (1)

Ryogo (1303193) | more than 5 years ago | (#26891503)

oh yeah. stop hacking computers. we got something new for ya. how about these things. you can kill the entire human race, have fun.

More than smells (3, Interesting)

TimmyDee (713324) | more than 5 years ago | (#26891841)

I was just at the AAAS conference in Chicago, and there was an entire session on synthetic biology and programming with DNA and RNA. Quite fascinating. Perhaps most intriguing (and promising) is the ability to add logic to RNA sequences, giving clinicians control over cell therapies. I wrote a summary of the session over at Ars [arstechnica.com] if anyone is interested.

Mint and Banana, eh? (2, Funny)

jockeys (753885) | more than 5 years ago | (#26892277)

So she's invented Shetty mint and Shetty banana. Pretty sweet.

But will she ever bioengineer a Shetty wall? Will the goddamn Mongorians break down her Shetty wall?

ni6Ga (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26892705)

suuport GNAA, MOR5E GAY THAN THEY

you F;ail It (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26893027)

was wdhat got me [samag.com] in the

TED talk about this (and other, similar) research (1)

matthewtoast (1480281) | more than 5 years ago | (#26894037)

Juan Enriquez talked about this research in his talk at TED this year. Just posted today: http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/juan_enriquez_shares_mindboggling_new_science.html [ted.com] He argues that the next big evolution in technology -- wetware hacking -- is going to eclipse the financial crisis.

This so far from new technology... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26894425)

My dad has been in the field of molecular biology for more than 30 years. Renaming an established field of research to something buzzworthy such as 'Synthetic Biology' seems to have piqued the interest of many a news outlet recently. The truth is people have been genetically engineering (the well established term) bacteria (my dad's company has engineered bacteria to produce vitamins as an alternative to chemical synthesis for decades) and other more complex organisms for a long time. And they have also, in cooperation with the government, developed strict regulations and standards to insure that bob-down-the-street doesn't start brewing some weaponized smallpox in his basement. Would you be alarmed if I told you dihydrogen-monoxide is a dangerous poison found in most of the products you consume every day? A rose by any other name...

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