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The Spread of Do-It-Yourself Biotech

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the not-just-for-terrorists-and-governments-anymore dept.

Biotech 206

zrbyte writes "Are you an electronics hobbyist or a garden shed tinkerer? If so, then move aside, because there's a new kid on the block: the DIY biotechnologist. The decreasing price of biotech instrumentation has made it possible for everyday folks (read: biotech geeks) with a few thousand dollars to spare to equip their garages and parents' basements with the necessary 'tools of the trade.' Some, like PCR machines, are available on eBay; other utensils are hacked together from everyday appliances and some creativity. For example: microscopes out of webcams and armpit E. coli incubators. Nature News has an article on the phenomenon, describing the weird and wonderful fruits of biotech geek ingenuity, like glow-in-the-dark yogurt. One could draw parallels with the early days of computer building/programming. It may be that we're looking at a biotech revolution, not just from the likes of Craig Venter, but from Joe-next-door hacking away at his E. coli strain. What are the Steve Wozniaks of biotech working on right now?"

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206 comments

Just great... (3, Insightful)

KarrdeSW (996917) | more than 3 years ago | (#33908648)

Now I have to worry about the my idiot roommate engineering a virus that'll cause the zombie apocalypse?

Re:Just great... (1)

brainboyz (114458) | more than 3 years ago | (#33908678)

I was going to post the exact same. The thought of them playing with genes that may interact with my body is scary. Not that I plan to stop them, they're free to do as they wish, but keep it contained!

Re:Just great... (1)

Ontheotherhand (796949) | more than 3 years ago | (#33908690)

That was my first thought too. but i guess a less exciting deadly flu might be more likely.

Re:Just great... (4, Insightful)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 3 years ago | (#33908754)

You should be more worried about your idiot roommate not washing his hands and getting you sick the old fashioned way. It's unlikely that even if he tried, he could make a disease more lethal than what nature has produced before.

By the way, those people who think HIV was created in a government lab seriously underestimate how cleverly made HIV is. It's way beyond our best evil geniuses.

Re:Just great... (4, Insightful)

bhartman34 (886109) | more than 3 years ago | (#33908806)

It's unlikely that even if he tried, he could make a disease more lethal than what nature has produced before.

It's not the idea of someone trying to make a disease that worries me. What worries me is the idea of someone moroning it up and accidentally producing something dangerous because they don't know what they're doing. The well-meaning idiot scenario is almost certainly more likely than the evil genius scenario.

Re:Just great... (2, Funny)

andrea.sartori (1603543) | more than 3 years ago | (#33908936)

The parallel with computer programming looks even more appropriate now that I read this.

Re:Just great... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33909026)

LOL yeah you should definitely worry about some amateur programming making a virus that will spread and destroy everything.

Re:Just great... (1)

randizzle3000 (1276900) | more than 3 years ago | (#33909554)

Like this [slashdot.org] ?

Re:Just great... (3, Interesting)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 3 years ago | (#33909120)

As a biologist let me say that that is ridiculous. It's like creating a highly efficient piece of malware on accident. However, back to the GP's post: it doesn't need to be deadlier than nature; nature after all, has evolved organisms that are overkill- it just needs to be mildly effective to be a problem.

Re:Just great... (2, Insightful)

bhartman34 (886109) | more than 3 years ago | (#33909598)

It's not a question of efficiency, necessarily. It's a question of possible unintended consequences. It's fairly difficult to write a highly-efficient piece of malware. It's fairly easy to accidentally do something destructive. It's why people are not encouraged to run programs as root on their machines. Do I think someone's going to accidentally create a superbug through their own tinkering? No. But can you tell me it's impossible someone gets a hold of a pathogen and it doesn't accidentally escape, or worse, mutate into a different strain, and then escape? That's where I see the potential for danger.

Re:Just great... (4, Insightful)

IICV (652597) | more than 3 years ago | (#33909230)

Not very likely. Evolution is like a trillion monkeys hammering away at potential genomes; if creating one that was viciously deadly to humans were easy, it probably would have happened already. One more monkey hammering away at it won't change much.

Re:Just great... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33909556)

You're all making the mistake of thinking that lethality is an advantageous trait for a virus or pathogen to have, when in fact it is not: a dead host is less effective at propagation than a live one. The Herpes simplex virus is an example of a very successful virus, yet it is far from deadly, or even very harmful. Bio-engineered pathogens could easily stand to be deadlier than naturally evolved ones.

Re:Just great... (3, Interesting)

HungryHobo (1314109) | more than 3 years ago | (#33909846)

How many people do you know who accidentally tripped while coding an application and unintentionally programmed a virulent computer virus?
Bio viruses are orders of magnitude more complex, it's exceedingly unlikely to happen by random chance.

Re:Just great... (1)

Monchanger (637670) | more than 3 years ago | (#33909048)

Just his hands? How about the jeans he wiped them off on while playing evil scientist?

It's true that a hobbyist isn't likely to take something benign and turn it into HIV or the bubonic plague, but those are extreme cases, far more than what's needed to kill you. Lethality comes in many degrees, all of which are dangerous enough inside the laboratory, so casually tinkering with E Coli is probably unnecessarily more dangerous than something which isn't already very capable of harming us.

Unless specifically working to modify a particular strain, these experimenters should choose a specimen which has a very short life and cannot thrive in a comfortable human environment so the chance of causing accidental harm is minimized. That's the main concern with such untrained budding epidemiologists- their lack of understanding and equipment when it comes to dealing with dangerous specimens.

Re:Just great... (1)

Twinbee (767046) | more than 3 years ago | (#33909142)

My germs, my precious germs!

They never harmed a soul. They never even had a chance!

Re:Just great... (1)

HungryHobo (1314109) | more than 3 years ago | (#33909998)

I think the point was that he's more likely to infect you with regular old natural diseases due to not washing his hands.

To extend this logic further.
Your friend might accidentally produce botulism toxin while home-brewing wine.
he might make a mistake in his math and accidentally cause a grey goo outbreak while tinkering with electronics
He might trip and accidentally create a virulent botnet while trying to code up a flash game.
He might fall, cause some strange mix of spices and surface cleaners to fall into the pot and accidentally create nerve gas while doing some home cooking.

All these scenarios are as likely as him accidentally creating a super-virus which will kill you while doing DIYbio.

it's new, it's unknown. hence it's scary to those who don't understand it.
Such predictions to biologists sound about as absurd as people who are afraid of catching computer viruses from their computers do to programmers.

now on the other hand if your roommate is really really bright and sets out to create a really nasty killer virus the odds are different.

So just don't live with a psycho.

Re:Just great... (1)

CarpetShark (865376) | more than 3 years ago | (#33909068)

From the what I've read, re-engineering a flu virus to be deadly is only a matter of altering a few (known) genes. The difficulty is in the tools available to the common would-be virus creator, not in the know-how. You can even order proteins online, which are filtered against certain deadly combinations being requested by customers. If a home/hobbyist/cottage industry develops around this, then biothreats may well become a much serious issue that we need to face as a society. More serious than the fake terror crap we've heard in recent years, that is.

Re:Just great... (1)

HungryHobo (1314109) | more than 3 years ago | (#33910118)

Really? They filter against certain combinations being ordered?
this sounds facinating and I'd like to learn more. Any links?

Re:Just great... (1)

juhaz (110830) | more than 3 years ago | (#33909654)

It's unlikely that even if he tried, he could make a disease more lethal than what nature has produced before

While that may be true for "idiot roommate", there's no reason why it should be for evil geniuses. Nature favors less-lethal diseases, a pathogen that kills off all it's hosts or kills too fast to spread effectively is an evolutionary dead-end and obviously there are huge selection pressures against such behavior.

By the way, those people who think HIV was created in a government lab seriously underestimate how cleverly made HIV is. It's way beyond our best evil geniuses.

Building something like HIV from scratch is way beyond us, but taking something like it that already has the important clever parts and adding something nature doesn't think is clever - too much deadliness, may not be.

Re:Just great... (1)

ByOhTek (1181381) | more than 3 years ago | (#33908862)

Nahh. I'll beat him to it.

Re:Just great... (1)

plcurechax (247883) | more than 3 years ago | (#33909894)

idiot roommate engineering a virus

To be serious for a moment (I know this can be frown upon in non-CS topics), engineering a virus is more work than modifying a bacteria. Because if you remember anything junior high biology, bacterias are man times larger than viruses, making them much easier to work with.

To wit, there is so far no known virus (size) DIYbio projects known within the communities, and the government (namely FBI) have been monitoring groups to watch for idiots asking for advice on malicious uses of host/target species (i.e. known pathogens).

You're more likely to get a STD, even if you're a uber-geek, than be harmed by a DIYbio project - of either the successfully-malicious, or the accidentally-harmful kind.

So what's new? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33908666)

Anything here which wasn't covered two years ago? [slashdot.org] ?

Frank Herbert's The White Plague (1)

new death barbie (240326) | more than 3 years ago | (#33908686)

'nuff said.

Re:Frank Herbert's The White Plague (1)

bhartman34 (886109) | more than 3 years ago | (#33908716)

First thing that came to my mind, too.

BAD idea (1)

D3 (31029) | more than 3 years ago | (#33908696)

Having worked as a research assistant in a mol bio lab, this scares the hell out of me. I don't want people creating the next super bug in their garage. Responsible research labs follow protocols about dealing with the bio-hazardous waste they generate. What happens when your neighbor releases his new organism by accident? And do we really need 'home brew' for this? If you want to study this stuff, go to school for it!

Re:BAD idea (3, Interesting)

durrr (1316311) | more than 3 years ago | (#33908758)

What happens when your neighbor releases his new organism by accident?

You'll end up with green flourescent beer and bread.
Seriously though, microbes are not rabid dogs, most of them are not virulent, most of them don't live in humans, and even if they do they have quite a few problems before they can colonize you. And if you're to suffer from them they need to produce some kind of toxins. And if you're to wreak havoc with them you need to weaponize them, and if you're at this stage you've probably done enough to see a FBI-sponsored surge in the profits of the local take-away coffee chain.

Re:BAD idea (1)

jeffmeden (135043) | more than 3 years ago | (#33908866)

What happens when your neighbor releases his new organism by accident?

You'll end up with green flourescent beer and bread.

Seriously though, microbes are not rabid dogs, most of them are not virulent, most of them don't live in humans, and even if they do they have quite a few problems before they can colonize you. And if you're to suffer from them they need to produce some kind of toxins. And if you're to wreak havoc with them you need to weaponize them, and if you're at this stage you've probably done enough to see a FBI-sponsored surge in the profits of the local take-away coffee chain.

*Most* of them, huh... Why am I still not comfortable after your reassurance...

Re:BAD idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33909060)

Not to mention that they don't need to infect humans directly - affecting water supplies and food production is sufficient.

Re:BAD idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33909082)

An idiot OR evil genius doing DIY biotech is more likely to kill you by hitting you with his car than by a bacteria.

Re:BAD idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33909280)

Fluorescence won't survive in the wild. Being seen in the dark equals to being eaten before you can reproduce.

Re:BAD idea (1)

durrr (1316311) | more than 3 years ago | (#33909650)

To be eaten because you glow requires your main predators to have eyes, when it comes to bacteria and fungi, this doesn't really apply.

Green flourescent protein was also originally extracted from a jellyfish, so it obviously do survive in the wild even in higher species.

You know they exchange DNA, right? (1)

Moraelin (679338) | more than 3 years ago | (#33910004)

Microbes may not be rabid dogs, but they have this uncanny compatibility with each other and the ability to exchange plasmids [wikipedia.org] even across species.

That's what made antibiotic resistance spread so fast across so many different bacteria. They didn't all come up with the same mutation, they got a copy of it from a friendly neighbour bacteria who already had it. (Yeah, bacteria totally don't understand copyright;))

So essentially, best case scenario, from glow-in-the-dark yoghurt you could get glow-in-the-dark shit or glow-in-the-dark teeth. Passing genes to the gut flora was discussed recently even on Slashdot, e.g., how the Japanese acquired genes that help digest seaweed in their gut flora. Know that it can happen to other genes too. Bacteria do that lots.

Worst case scenario, you end up with the clever mutation someone coded in the lab for his mouth bacteria that don't cause caries to have an edge over the natural bad bacteria, being passed on to the less benign MRSA or TBC and giving those a survival edge.

Or it combining with God knows what else -- as proteins or their DNA code aren't exactly orthogonal programming, but rather a mess of spaghetti code where the 5 different side-effects are actually what makes things work -- and maybe has a mutation, _and_ spreads to something else. Maybe add a virus in between accidentally adding it to its own genome, for even more fun.

Add such things as agro-bacteria. Those fun little guys can copy a bit of DNA into a plant's DNA. Mostly they do it naturally to copy genes that produce a root tumour in which they thrive. But it can be loaded with any DNA payload you wish, and are in fact how people do GM on plants nowadays. But they can also occasionally copy the wrong payload between plants and _may_ be for example how the roundup resistance gene got copied from Monsanto's wheat to some wild weeds.

So, best case scenario, you get plants that glow in the dark too. Worst, you end up with, say, wheat that's toxic.

I don't think one should underestimate what can go wrong when you start giving bacteria new genes, and certainly not based on gross over-simplifications of what they do and how they work.

Re:BAD idea (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 3 years ago | (#33908762)

do we really need 'home brew' for this? If you want to study this stuff, go to school for it!

Booooo..

I find this a little scary too, but if they're smart/geeky enough to even want to try this at home, don't you think they'd also take some appropriate cautionary measures? After all, the first person in the line of fire is themself if something goes wrong..

Re:BAD idea (2, Insightful)

bhartman34 (886109) | more than 3 years ago | (#33908872)

History is replete with examples of people doing things because they could, without considering the question of whether or not they should. It's almost certain that someone will rush headlong into a project like this without adequately preparing for contingencies. It's no different than someone buying a gun and being lax about gun safety.

Re:BAD idea (3, Insightful)

bhartman34 (886109) | more than 3 years ago | (#33909000)

Just as a quick clarification: I don't mean to sound anti-gun. Everyone has a legal right to own a gun if they want to (subject to certain restrictions). I was just pointing out that there are people who don't take it quite as seriously as they should. Regardless of whether you think guns kill people or people kill people, it's undeniable that a person with a gun can kill people, so guns should be treated with due care.

Re:BAD idea (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 3 years ago | (#33909294)

Everyone has a legal right to it in the US anyway..

I'm sure a lot of good as well as bad things have resulted from people doing things just because they "could". If we didn't do things simply because we could, the world would be a very dull place, and we probably wouldn't have advanced very far technically.

Re:BAD idea (1)

bhartman34 (886109) | more than 3 years ago | (#33909668)

I should've specified the U.S. in my comments about guns. Sorry about that.

I'm not against stretching the limits of what we can do. I'm not even against doing risky things. What I'm saying is that some level of care needs to be taken that we're at least trying to assess risks. And maybe the guy doing the experiment shouldn't be the one who makes that assessment. In academic settings, those safeguards are in place. In some guy's basement, they won't be.

Re:BAD idea (1)

HungryHobo (1314109) | more than 3 years ago | (#33910070)

In academic settings, those safeguards *should be* in place
In some guy's basement, they *might not be*.

Re:BAD idea (1)

zrbyte (1666979) | more than 3 years ago | (#33909374)

I agree with you. To put it in a broader perspective, technology is a tool. It can be used for bad or good purposes, with differing degrees of positive or negative impact). This is true for every form of technology, not just high tech things. An axe can be used to chop down a tree and it can just as easily be a murder weapon. The same with biotech. Technological progress needs to matched by moral progress so the should we? question can be put forward with glowing red lights, especially in cases where the negative impact can be severe

Having said this, I don't think garage biotech poses a big threat. They're nowhere near the point where they can genetically engineer organisms and especially not for dangerous purposes.

Biotech as a whole is another matter altogether. Putting aside the zombie apocalypse scenarios, it has the potential to fundamentally change our society, and not necessarily for the better. Personally, I'm more concerned about this than my neighbor incubating his E-coli under his armpit. The more people talk and debate about its implications the better.

I would love some input on this from ./ folks who are into this thing, or work in the biotech field.

Re:BAD idea (1)

jeffmeden (135043) | more than 3 years ago | (#33908884)

We are never quite as good at judging risk when it's our own butt on the line vs. someone elses'. Why do you think there are car accidents, household accidents, sports accidents, etc. on a daily basis that kill a LOT of people. All this would take is one "containment accident" and all of a sudden the next super-swine-flu is among us with no warning and no borders to close to protect us from it's spread.

Re:BAD idea (1)

Plunky (929104) | more than 3 years ago | (#33909340)

I find this a little scary too, but if they're smart/geeky enough to even want to try this at home, don't you think they'd also take some appropriate cautionary measures? After all, the first person in the line of fire is themself if something goes wrong..

You would certainly think so but lets not forget about David Hahn [wikipedia.org] who actually didn't..

Re:BAD idea (1)

Hatta (162192) | more than 3 years ago | (#33909072)

If people like you were around in the 19th century, chemistry would have been set back for decades, if not centuries.

lulz (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33908718)

I spread your mom's biotech with myself.

You're Welcome (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33908722)

- the pot growers who are buying 95% of this equipment

Re:You're Welcome (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33909158)

Which raises the question, how long until some clever stoner clones the genes responsible for synthesis of THC and inserts them into yeast? That would make the best beer ever.

With a modest home lab, and a few tens of thousands of dollars invested, that would be a fairly simple project for any molecular biologist to complete in a couple years. Frankly, I'm surprised it hasn't been done yet. Surely some drug cartel must realize there's a market for high purity THC from recombinant sources. If anything else it would be easier to smuggle.

Re:You're Welcome (1)

jonwil (467024) | more than 3 years ago | (#33909790)

The first bad guy to come up with a way to make a something that has the same effect on people as marijuana yet to a normal observer (i.e. anyone without the ability to do chemical analysis on it) looks just like something perfectly harmless that people would normally carry around with them in their pockets will make a killing.

Glow-in-the-dark yogurt? (5, Funny)

migloo (671559) | more than 3 years ago | (#33908742)

Glow-in-the-dark slippers would be more useful.

Re:Glow-in-the-dark yogurt? (1)

durrr (1316311) | more than 3 years ago | (#33908812)

It serves its purpose.
"Oh, that stain, it's yougurt, look it will glow when i expose it to this flourescent light"
"..."
"Somethings wrong, maybe it's just normal yogurt!"

Re:Glow-in-the-dark yogurt? (1)

jeffmeden (135043) | more than 3 years ago | (#33908898)

What could be better than a fridge that lights itself up as long as it's stocked with yogurt? I can finally stop replacing that damn bulb that I keep knocking into with the milk jug.

Re:Glow-in-the-dark yogurt? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33908954)

>> slippers

Did anybody else read that as "strippers"?

Re:Glow-in-the-dark yogurt? (1)

pspahn (1175617) | more than 3 years ago | (#33909096)

Only you, Officer.

Re:Glow-in-the-dark yogurt? (1)

Palpatine_li (1547707) | more than 3 years ago | (#33909522)

Not as hard as you think, sir. You can just make the fxxking fungus on your foot fluorescent, and both your feet and slippers will glow off the energy in your feet sweat...

Re:Glow-in-the-dark yogurt? (1)

SnarfQuest (469614) | more than 3 years ago | (#33909550)

Glow-in-the-dark bra and panties. Makes it easier to deal with them in the dark.

Re:Glow-in-the-dark yogurt? (1)

suomynonAyletamitlU (1618513) | more than 3 years ago | (#33909932)

Just make glow-in-the-dark spider silk with those silkworks from a few stories back. I'm sure that's a perfect material for making cocoons out of! It's like an eternal nightlight. And then you can have your slippers and see them, too.

a little bit of spider dna into silk moths (1)

cindyann (1916572) | more than 3 years ago | (#33908780)

Oops, got the wrong bit of DNA.

What do you suppose that red hourglass on the back of this moth means?

Oh, don't let that fly out the window.

Darn, it got away -- I wonder if that's bad?

Fluorescent, not bioluminescent (4, Informative)

Scrameustache (459504) | more than 3 years ago | (#33908786)

I'd like to point out that the ambiguous "glow in the dark" quality mentioned here refers to the green fluorescent protein (GFP), a protein which exhibits bright green fluorescence when exposed to blue light. This isn't the good kind of glow in the dark where it produces its own light, it's the inferior "black light makes it glow" variety.

Re:Fluorescent, not bioluminescent (1)

Taibhsear (1286214) | more than 3 years ago | (#33909070)

For those interested, the GFP is fluorescent (basically meaning it immediately emits photons upon radiation with UV but will not glow in the absence of it), "Glow in the dark" chemicals are phosphorescent (basically meaning it slowly releases photons after radiation with UV or visible light and glows for a period of time after the light source has been removed), and then there is chemiluminescent chemicals like luminol (which is an active chemical reaction that releases photons for as long as the reaction occurs and is independent of ambient light).

Re:Fluorescent, not bioluminescent (1)

pilgrim23 (716938) | more than 3 years ago | (#33909688)

Marginally related: This reminds me of a article I read many many years ago on research done with UV on Egyptian pharaoh Mummy bones. If during your life you have taken tetracycline, your bones will develop a UV glow not present if you have not. It seems there is was a swamp in lower Nubia that developed a insect the bite of which was deadly yet those who ate some local plant (I read this years ago and forget the specifics), developed an immunity due to naturally occurring tetracycline. UV glow can occur due to many biological reactions. By the way: The Mummies: Glowed ..

Re:Fluorescent, not bioluminescent (1)

nospam007 (722110) | more than 3 years ago | (#33909108)

"This isn't the good kind of glow in the dark where it produces its own light"

The 'good' glow is called Luciferin.
With that name it _has_ to be good.

biotch? (2, Funny)

donnyspi (701349) | more than 3 years ago | (#33908796)

Am I the only one who read this headline as "The Spread of Do-It-Yourself, Biotch!"

Re:biotch? (1)

VolciMaster (821873) | more than 3 years ago | (#33909396)

probably :)

Re:biotch? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33909414)

This is *exactly* what I read it as, and I came to post this very comment.

Thanks for asking! I'm working on... (-1, Troll)

countSudoku() (1047544) | more than 3 years ago | (#33908798)

A strain of bacteria that gives worms to ex-girlfriends.

Re:Thanks for asking! I'm working on... (1)

durrr (1316311) | more than 3 years ago | (#33909094)

If you manage to develop a bacterial strain that creates nematodes in your girlfriend you'll get both your revenge and the nobel prize.

Re:Thanks for asking! I'm working on... (1)

SnarfQuest (469614) | more than 3 years ago | (#33909568)

I thought that the worms were the reason for the "ex" part.

soon to follow... (2, Interesting)

AffidavitDonda (1736752) | more than 3 years ago | (#33908826)

I could accept Biohackers, but the next step would be Bioscriptkiddies...

Re:soon to follow... (1)

andrea.sartori (1603543) | more than 3 years ago | (#33908960)

Think Biowarez!

Re:soon to follow... (1)

SnarfQuest (469614) | more than 3 years ago | (#33909642)

I could accept Biohackers, but the next step would be Bioscriptkiddies...

What kind of spam would they produce? You might find yourself fighting with real spam.

It's the start of the zombie-spam apocalypse!

don't see the link (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33908852)

I don't see the link to hobbyist computers and electronics. People do not buy a computer to "tinker with" unless they are already quite familiar with using them for real work. (Or games, whatever, but actual tasks). Someone who is familiar with biotech probably has at least a 4 year degree in it. They realize that if they want to do this kind of stuff (tinker aka research), they need millions (billions) of dollars, or they need to be in a university/professional lab. They don't want to spend 1000$ on a no frills PCR machine. That is akin to spending $1000 to build your own cdrom drive instead of buying one. a cdrom drive is about as exciting as a pcr machine (if you don't know, a pcr machine is essentially a programmable heat block). They are talking about seriously low level science here.

Re:don't see the link (1)

Pojut (1027544) | more than 3 years ago | (#33909022)

They were referring to people making advances in computer technology (personal and otherwise) out of their garage in the 70's and 80's.

Re:don't see the link (4, Insightful)

Hatta (162192) | more than 3 years ago | (#33909310)

You underestimate the amount of low hanging fruit left. And with the progress of technology, there's even more low hanging fruit now than there was 30 years ago. Yes, you need large grants if you're doing cutting edge research. But if you're doing something that's been ignored by researchers because it's not directly connected to a disease process, for instance, then you might find it relatively cheap to produce novel results.

Re:don't see the link (1)

zrbyte (1666979) | more than 3 years ago | (#33909526)

I would mod you up if I had the points to do it :)

I work in research and you can't imagine how much low hanging fruit there is. My former adviser used to say that he would need to have an army of students, grad students, etc. do do all the neat things that we don't have enough time for. It's a bit frustrating actually.

I read this as (-1, Redundant)

bluefoxlucid (723572) | more than 3 years ago | (#33908922)

"The Spread of Do It Yourself, Bitch"

I do a little of this (2, Insightful)

elewton (1743958) | more than 3 years ago | (#33908950)

I get loads of old lab equipment from the 80s that's being thrown out now, but still work pretty well or require minor repair. Many are more of a hassle than modern equipment, but some of it what I was using when I was in college.
I don't GM organisms, but selectively breed fungi.

I believe that it is only a matter of little time until someone releases a harmless virus into the population that contains the first 13 primes or an ASCII message. When this is discovered, the population will correctly be concerned about home-made bioweapons.
Even if the Biocracker isn't smart enough to engineer a new, virulent plague (and they will eventually, hopefully after targeted anti-virals are practically synthesized quickly) they could impair an old deadly virus to only be effective on specific immunodeficiencies in a cell line of an enermy.
The Biotech world of the future will be a world of wonders and horrors.

Scary (-1, Offtopic)

ZipprHead (106133) | more than 3 years ago | (#33908964)

This is all well and good, but let me point out that it's now also possible for anyone to engineer a virus that will kill most of us off.

Re:Scary (1)

tixxit (1107127) | more than 3 years ago | (#33909124)

Billions of years of evolution managed to produce us, human beings, along with all other animals, plants, bugs, bacteria, viruses, etc. That same process, that has made an organism so complex as a human being, still hasn't produced a virus that has wiped us out. What makes you think we can do better?

Re:Scary (3, Insightful)

durrr (1316311) | more than 3 years ago | (#33909490)

What makes you think we can do better?

Ignorance. Having no actual detail knowledge of the process of genetic engineering will make you assume that there's a single well known gene encoding for Spore-forming-antibiotic-resistant-universal-substrate-utilizing-bacterioviral-immune-system-bypassing-Death-plague.

And they are right, every idiot will now be able to mix two ingredients together to create a pathogen so vile and soul-wrenchingly evil that the sun will go nova the very second that they open the lid of their petri dish. Really!

Re:Scary (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 3 years ago | (#33909530)

What makes you think we can do better?

A mutant virus that kills the host in minutes won't spread far from its originating source, and hence will rapidly die out. An engineered virus that kills its host in minutes can deliberately be spread widely by artificial means.

The virulence will still ensure that it can only be spread by such means, but if it's been spread around your city you might be a bit upset.

Re:Scary (1)

elewton (1743958) | more than 3 years ago | (#33910034)

Viruses and hosts co-evolve toward NOT killing the hosts. Many peoples and species have been ravaged by viruses toward which they have no immunity
A human being has access to huge amounts information about the target, and is not operating by selective pressure. They can copy and paste large segments of human DNA and have access to modern immunosuppression knowledge.
A biocracker is also not limited to natural processes. Normally, specialty DNA (targeting, tracking proteins, toxins) might be sufficiently disadvantageous to prevent spread, but the release of a large culture of modified influenza in a shopping centre fountain or neubilised in near air outlets, for instance, could be disastrous.

Cower us all (1)

Yergle143 (848772) | more than 3 years ago | (#33910078)

You need to up-think your evolutionary reasoning.In a an optimal parasite/host relationship the parasite doesn't necessarily desire the extinction of its "habitat". Flu virus is more "successful" than Ebola. I agree that it is pure hubris to think that humans can do one better than evolution in the design side of things -- HIV is only nine genes and we still can't lick it. The danger, as the parent suggests, is that some hobbyist could insert a toxin gene in a virulent bacteria/virus that could cause a lot of pain and suffering.
I'm not sure there is any upside to hobbyist gene modification. Using PCR tools to augment "natural" traditional breeding techniques has some merit. GM should only be done under strict supervision.

Obligatory Frank Herbert reference (1)

borgboy (218060) | more than 3 years ago | (#33909090)

Don't sell any of your equipment to anyone named O'Neill.

John Varley (1)

gmuslera (3436) | more than 3 years ago | (#33909102)

Still have to see the "do-it-yourself" biotech as the one shown in Varley's future (as in i.e. Steel Beach), where you could do on yourself complex body modifications as something so simple and easy that children used to do that.

Unforeseen consequences? Never heard of 'em. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33909170)

So somebody with zero accountability to anyone can now release a genetically engineered organism into the enviroment? Where it will self-replicate?

I can't see any way THAT could go wrong.

Ultravision (3, Interesting)

gurps_npc (621217) | more than 3 years ago | (#33909226)

The human eye contains rods and cones to see color. Rods detect light at 498nm frequeny, short cones peak at 420 (purple), medium cones peak at 534 nm (green) and long cones peak at 564 nm (red).

But birds have cones that can see far greater. Some birds can see as low as 375 nm. This lets them see ultraviolet.

How hard would it be to find the gene that lets birds make this kind of cone cell and add it to a human? Breed for UV colorblind birds, compare their DNA with birds that can see UV, sample the DNA and try it out on a monkey first.

P.S. the human lens tends to block light at frequencies of around 380, so we might only be able to see down to 385 nm, but that is still a boost of 35 nm, greater than the difference between green and red.

Re:Ultravision (2, Interesting)

durrr (1316311) | more than 3 years ago | (#33909386)

Adding more color pigments within the range of normal color vision is also beneficial in that it allows for more subtle nuances of existing colors to be discerned.

What an evil genius would do. (1)

Darth Cider (320236) | more than 3 years ago | (#33909258)

A smart evil genius wouldn't create a plague. He or she would be more interested in creating a strain of tomato (or some other benign plant) with THC or cocaine or opium in its leaves. This is the stuff of folklore, well-known as a can-do sort of idea. It isn't farfetched. I don't know why it hasn't happened already.

Re:What an evil genius would do. (1)

durrr (1316311) | more than 3 years ago | (#33909368)

Because the gene encoding THC was only discovered last year. And just inserting it in tomatoes is not enough, you want it to be expressed at a very high level.
Wait a few years and you'll probably read about the first example of finding it in tomatoes or yeast.

Re:What an evil genius would do. (1)

speroni (1258316) | more than 3 years ago | (#33909754)

Tomacco?

Blueprint for disaster (1)

Glock27 (446276) | more than 3 years ago | (#33909332)

Not only are garage bioweapons a risk, but there's a ton of knowledge that's readily available to anyone. Some of the sequencers available on the open market are capable of synthesizing polio virus from raw materials. Couple that with research such as this, where researchers accidentally created a 100% deadly organism [newscientist.com] , and you've got a big problem!

Money quote from the article:

"We wanted to make it clear to the scientific community that they should be careful, that it is not too difficult to create severe organisms."

two words (1)

dirty_ghost (1673990) | more than 3 years ago | (#33909356)

hallucinogenic cheese

Old news (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 3 years ago | (#33909466)

I've been growing stuff in my refrigerator for years.

armpit E.coli incubators (1)

MoonRabbit (596371) | more than 3 years ago | (#33909482)

is the name of my Antoine Dodson cover band.

Dude - these tomatoes are awwwwweeeeesome (1)

ryanvm (247662) | more than 3 years ago | (#33909538)

Wake me when one of these garage geneticists splices the THC gene into tomatoes or kudzu...

Glow in the dark (1)

SnarfQuest (469614) | more than 3 years ago | (#33909580)

Doesn't this sound like the start of a spider-man movie?

Re:Glow in the dark (2, Funny)

Jesus_666 (702802) | more than 3 years ago | (#33910132)

Somehow I don't think a man with the awesome power of yoghurt would be particularly fearsome. What can he do? Get eaten by other people and aid their immune system?

Nice. A sure way to get funding for Immunology... (1)

Palpatine_li (1547707) | more than 3 years ago | (#33909582)

research. So instead of competing with evil Soviet Russians in outerspace exploration, now we compete with geeks in their mothers basements!

Blade Runner? (1)

MaWeiTao (908546) | more than 3 years ago | (#33909830)

Somewhat off topic, but why does this story have Blade Runner as a tag? I don't recall the novel or movie being much about biotechnology. Weren't they all androids?

A more appropriate reference would be Windup Girl which is extremely relevant to the subject matter.

DIY Insulin - A Challenge! (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33910068)

I like to do things myself: make bread and cheese, build my own computers and do landscaping, build sheds, chop firewood, knit, sew, try to repair everything I own at least a couple of times before I admit defeat.

It's what I like to do.

Earlier this year I was diagnosed with adult onset type 1 diabetes, and ever since I've been slowly realising that I'm completely dependent on modern society's medical system. This in itself is OK, but I have been tinkering with the idea of attempting to "produce" (I realise this could mean extract, or synthesise, or ...) my own insulin. It wouldn't have to be much and I don't even know if I'd attempt to inject it myself, although I would attempt to get its structure and purity verified so that at least I knew I'd done it right.

This is just an open-ended question: if there are any molecular biologists out there could they suggest the easiest method for me to attempt insulin production at home?

Assume I have the chemistry and technical skills to perform distillations, run a PCR machine, know when to use a fume hood, handle solvents and acids without killing myself, that kind of thing.

Suggestions welcome!

Illegal (1)

speroni (1258316) | more than 3 years ago | (#33910098)

I'm all for DIY home innovation and experiments, but this is going to be illegal pretty soon. Well not outright illegal, but like this: DIY Home Science Under Attack [slashdot.org]

Whatever happened to Veeb's stuff anyway?

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