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Do It Yourself Biology Research, Past and Present

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the pass-the-genes dept.

Biotech 108

Harperdog writes "Laura Kahn has a great article about the long and fascinating history of do-it-yourself research, from Darwin and Mendel to present day. From the article: 'Welcome to the new millennium of do-it-yourself (DIY) biology. Advances in technology in the twenty-first century have enabled anybody, with the desire and the disposable income, to build rather sophisticated laboratories in their own homes. Entire communities have even materialized to promote these efforts -- like the thousands of amateur biologists who contribute to DIYbio.org, a website "dedicated to making biology an accessible pursuit for citizen scientists, amateur biologists and biological engineers."'"

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108 comments

What? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40361555)

Are you talking about Darwin [reprap.org] and Mendel [reprap.org] ?

Re:What? (1, Troll)

Frnknstn (663642) | more than 2 years ago | (#40361919)

No, they mean Darwin [conservapedia.com] and Mendel [conservapedia.com] , surely?

Re:What? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40362653)

You might have found the worst two descriptions of each man on the entire internet.

Re:What? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40363735)

Conservapedia? There is just something downright creepy about the America's hard-right. They're getting so off their rockers fascist that I am seriously afraid of them. Over the top nationalism, blatant propaganda, openly endorsing violence to repress political opposition, ignoring the constitution as long as it furthers their goals. I'm not saying this as a leftist...I'm saying this as a moderate who's leaning left more because the radicals are becoming too mainstream on the right.

Re:What? (1)

MagusSlurpy (592575) | more than 2 years ago | (#40365253)

I'm pretty sure that Conservapedia is edited by liberals with a sense of humor more often than actual right-wingers.

Re:What? (2)

Genda (560240) | more than 2 years ago | (#40365257)

Trust me, you're not leaning left in any way, its an illusion cause by standing too close to someone who leans so far to the right he's beginning to tear the right edge of the film sprockets. Kind of like light near a black hole bends from the gravity... perhaps a good analogy on several levels. Creepy is the right word. The NeoCons have turned conservatism into a religion, and as a belief system are no longer bond to, or bothered by facts or even sanity. Look at the whole cut government spending religion. During the Reagan era, the whole "Trickle Down" fiasco began, and predictably the economy started sliding into the toilet, Ronny at least increased government investment into the economy and things perked up (of course doing that on top of huge tax cuts to the rich also started piling up huge deficits, but that wasn't going to blow up in his lifetime so why should he care, and he didn't.) Clinton inherited a broken economy that was still being abused by "Trickle Down", so he set up a variety of new spending (including Federal subsidies for the high tech industry), plus moderate net tax increase (combined with strategic tax cuts in industries he meant to empower) not only stabilized the economy but created a boom in employment, a flourishing economy and a huge surplus (which we could have used to start paying down the national debt.) I won't even talk about Dubyah, he was an embarrassment no matter what your political persuasion. Now we have a President desperately trying to create economic stimulus while caught in the teeth of a neoconservative beast perfectly willing to gut the entire nation to make us all conform to their personal beliefs which fly in the face of logic, factual evidence, or even some iota of sanity (that or their need to control completely is so great that they are willing to ruin our nation and its people, to win a President who will carry out their agenda.) Either position is equally despicable.

A great person once said "The measure of a statesman is his ability to hold true to his core beliefs while compromising where it serves the greater good to move the society forward." It is virtually impossible to build consensus by bullying, or stonewalling, or viciously attacking members who don't tow the party line with your state religion. As we've become more polarized as a nation, we've sent ever greater pit-bulls to Washington to win for our side (that's both sides by the way), and what we have now is an ongoing political donnybrook that's effectively killing off any real chance for constructive state building while the only laws that get passed are those bought and paid for by men paying with the tax dollars they were given as corporate welfare... and the only difference between the sides I can see is which industries they choose to sleep with... so there are precious few innocent players on either side of the aisle thank you very much.

Did any of you see the disgusting behavior of the the Senators who man the Senate Banking Committee as they addressed Jamie Dimon CEO of J.P. Morgan Chase? This is the highest banking regulatory body in our nation... why is it that the largest contributor (for virtually every one of them) was also J.P. Morgan Chase, through Jamie Dimon? They did everything but fan his fevered brow and peel grapes for him. This is supposed to be our best hope for making the Bankers straighten up and fly right, and they're too busy trying to fellate a CEO who just lost $7,000,000,000 on precisely the same gambling that blew the economy up 4 years ago. I would wager to guess that all the banks are doing precisely the same risky gambling that almost brought our nation to its knees, and our Federal Unregulators just let this insanity go on because they are too well paid to look the other way. Bringing us back to beliefs. I'm sorry, but some things just need to be regulated, because human beings besides being loving, compassionate and knowledge seeking are just as equally selfish, lazy, greedy, Machiavellian, rotten, power hungry bastards. You better account for both sides of the human coin or the future will have it's way with you and it will not be pretty outcome. A dose of reality in D.C. would be truly refreshing right about now.

Re:What? (1)

cusco (717999) | more than 2 years ago | (#40365437)

My kingdom for a mod point . . .

50/50 (1)

RightSaidFred99 (874576) | more than 2 years ago | (#40361567)

The usual media spin on this is "Oh noes, someone's going to make an airborne Ebola/HIV hybrid virus in their kitchen!".

I think this is ridiculous and it's more likely someone will actually make an airborne Flu/Ebola/HIV hybrid. Nothing to worry about here, move along.

Re:50/50 (2)

SJHillman (1966756) | more than 2 years ago | (#40361633)

I took microbiology as an elective in college, probably one of the more fun courses I took outside of my major. Nothing says fun like making E coli change color or using bacteria to draw pictures in petri dishes. The fact that it was an elective took a bit of the stress off - there's no doubt I had more fun than anyone else in the class (I was the only one there who didn't require it, the rest were bio majors. I was also one of only two A's in the class of ~40 students).

Re:50/50 (2)

RightSaidFred99 (874576) | more than 2 years ago | (#40361727)

Totally, and if I didn't go into computers my #2 choice by a long shot would have been microbiology. Can't get more interesting than the fundamental building blocks of life.

But I'm still not convinced this stuff isn't going to get easy enough such that some nut or terrorist will be able to design something that will kill half a billion people. I just hope that by that time it will also be advanced enough that the professionals can immunize/mitigate it before it kills very many people.

Re:50/50 (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 2 years ago | (#40361955)

Can't get more interesting than the fundamental building blocks of life.

That would be biochemistry and believe me, that is not fun at all :(

Re:50/50 (1)

MagusSlurpy (592575) | more than 2 years ago | (#40365277)

Or biophysics. Or quantum physics. Or mathematics. Reducto ab absurdum!

I enjoyed biochem a lot more than orgo, though.

Re:50/50 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40362263)

I'd be worried if we all had a Microsoft logo on our body.

Re:50/50 (2)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#40362001)

Honestly, statements like that severely devalue the amount of work that went into ebola, HIV, and influenza in the first place. Millions of years of evolution ain't free, y'know!

Re:50/50 (0)

0123456 (636235) | more than 2 years ago | (#40362057)

Millions of years of evolution ain't free, y'know!

Heathen! God created ebola, HIV and influenza one Sunday afternoon when he was bored.

Re:50/50 (2, Funny)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#40362161)

Pretty sure it was a Friday. Genesis is fairly clear that He couldn't get a date because of His unsightly beard, and so in His divine anger, bequeathed unto His children a wide variety of ills both minor and major, including not only ebola, HIV, and influenza, but also the bubonic plague, insurance salespeople, and stubbed toes.

Re:50/50 (1)

MagusSlurpy (592575) | more than 2 years ago | (#40365291)

Genesis is also clear that those first few "days" occurred before he created the sun, hence they weren't actually days at all.

Sorry, just got into a "discussion" with Jehovah's Witnesses at the door this morning about the Bible (not) being the literal word of God.

Re:50/50 (1)

cusco (717999) | more than 2 years ago | (#40365457)

That can be fun, if you have the time to waste. Had a housemate one time who like to tell the Mormon missionaries about the portions of their history that they're not allowed to learn.

Re:50/50 (1)

marcosdumay (620877) | more than 2 years ago | (#40362955)

Bah. Those millions of years of evolution where spent making those virus less lethal, not more.

Re:50/50 (1)

RightSaidFred99 (874576) | more than 2 years ago | (#40363057)

Right, good thing you don't have to reinvent them just mix and match them to get a desired change.

Materials (1)

Hatta (162192) | more than 2 years ago | (#40361599)

Bio is still pretty expensive. Even simple techniques like PCR require highly purified reagents. For instance, how does one purify dNTPs [promega.com] at home?

Re:Materials (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40361645)

For instance, how does one purify dNTPs [promega.com] at home?

Promega is over-priced, but dNTPs aren't a high-use item anyway.

Re:Materials (4, Insightful)

Hatta (162192) | more than 2 years ago | (#40361847)

Depends on what you're doing. If you're doing PCR to screen a large number of transformants, or if you're using the dNTPs to synthesize your own oligos, you'll go through a lot.

IMO, this is where the focus of DIY bio should be for a while. Try and find out how to get expensive reagents for reasonable prices. dNTPs are just one example. What are these people staining their gels with anyway? Ethidium bromide is somewhat toxic, and Sybr safe is fairly expensive.

Also, are people doing histology at home? You might be able to produce your own antibodies, if you keep rabbits. But can you conjugate fluorescent markers to them?

What about western blots? Is polyacrylamide available to the hobbyist?

I guess what I'm saying is that there's a lot that can be done, but also a lot that can't be done at home on the cheap. We're still in the phase where the most important research is on techniques, not biology.

Re:Materials (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40362515)

Depends on what you're doing. If you're doing PCR to screen a large number of transformants, or if you're using the dNTPs to synthesize your own oligos, you'll go through a lot.

Yes, but no one does that outside of class. You can buy oligos at about 80 cents per KBP and in a synth-bio environment you know what you are screening from a very small subset of possibilities. There is no need to spend more than $5-$10 on synthetic oligos to replace a section you are working with for a given transformation.

Re:Materials (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40362579)

Also, are people doing histology at home? You might be able to produce your own antibodies, if you keep rabbits. But can you conjugate fluorescent markers to them?

"Histology" doesn't really require antibodies, much less fluorescently tagged antibodies (although there are kits for that). Fluorescent microscopes are at least an order of magnitude more expensive than conventional scopes (maybe $5k on ebay), and probably not for the DIYer. Also, the procedures used to farm antibodies are likely to get a private citizen charged with animal cruelty.

Most histology is based on chemical stains, and sometimes in-situ reactions, that are completely practical to do at home. Many of them can be done in sections you could cut with a razor (ie: without an expensive rotary or cyrostat microtome) or in whole mounts of smaller organisms (C elegans). Chemical stains like hematoxylin and eosin or trichrome will differentiate regions of brain, alveolae, layers within collage, and show off the nuclei of most tissues. There's an amazing world revealed just by painting cells with the right chemicals, and it's completely appropriate for the home biologist. Even pond water with a little methylene blue or crystal violet is much more visible and interesting under a cheap light microscope than unstained.

Re:Materials (1)

Hatta (162192) | more than 2 years ago | (#40362777)

There's an amazing world revealed just by painting cells with the right chemicals, and it's completely appropriate for the home biologist.

It's pretty, but the point of DIY bio is to contribute to science or create a novel technology. We're not talking about setting up demos for kids.

Maybe I'm just spoiled from working in a biology lab for years, but what sort of questions can you actually answer without techniques like IHC, western blotting, and transgenics?

Re:Materials (3, Insightful)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 2 years ago | (#40363807)

You certainly could do classical E. coli or phage genetics. All you need is some growth media, pipettes and petri dishes. I'm not sure how that would translate into cutting edge research but it's doable.

You could potentially do some screening / growth requirements for some of the millions of new viruses that are floating about. These seem poorly characterized and again, it's rather classical microbiology.

But yes, modern molecular biology is going to be tough without an account at one of the many vendors of probes, etc.

One thing that does strike me is the sheer number of companies marketing sophisticated molecular probes / cell lines / antibiodies etc. In my day we had to make them de novo (and cut the glass for our gels and purify the acrylamide and make our own electricity....). If you had deep enough pockets, you could get pretty sophisticated very quickly.

Re:Materials (1)

Genda (560240) | more than 2 years ago | (#40365365)

Check out Genspace" [genspace.org] in New York City. Started by a student and now a significant small research lab for the enthusiast, it has quite a good selection of equipment and resources. Some was purchased second hand from ebay and other professional labs donating older equipment. Some of the materials have been donated from local and even not so local schools. Finally a lot of the materials have been purchased by the enthusiasts themselves. You'd be amazed at what these folks are doing. Both inspiring and a wee bit unnerving (there's so much we don't know, and mistakes could be costly), though I tend to think these guys are even more cautious than some professionals, and that if there ever is a really ugly accident, it will probably come from a pro lab, cutting corners in disposing of bio-waste.

Just in case anyone has a question about the last comment you can look here [msn.com] to see that business as usual where biohazards are concerned is a nasty game of Russian Roulette, and we'll all be the losers.

Re:Materials (1)

cusco (717999) | more than 2 years ago | (#40365487)

Even pond water with a little methylene blue or crystal violet is much more visible and interesting

Really? I think pond water is fascinating already. Doesn't it kill the critters? I know iodine does, which was my one attempt at staining pond water. Not nearly as interesting if they're not still moving, although some of the details might be cool to check out.

Chronic Insomnia caused by Al F_3 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40361699)

You can experiment on the effects of alterations to the Cell Cycle, ie inhibit TS and change the G1,S and G2 phases, with house hold Fluoride.

Also experiment with G proteins and 2nd messengers using Al F_3 as an analogue of TSH.

Re:Materials (4, Insightful)

flyingsquid (813711) | more than 2 years ago | (#40362089)

It may well be correct to say that the number of amateur scientists has increased, and the tools available to an amateur scientist are pretty impressive (compare the computing power and software of an average laptop to a university machine 50 years ago). But the trend is clear- amateurs are playing less and less of a role.

The biggest reason is that it's simply harder to make a discovery now than it was 100 or 200 years ago. Back in the time of Galileo, you could do cutting-edge physics research by dropping two wooden balls of different masses. The total cost of the research would be trivial and it would take you a few minutes to conduct. These days, cutting-edge physics means an experimental device like the Large Hadron Collider, hundreds of people, years of time, and billions of dollars. Cutting edge was within the reach of anybody in 1564, now it can only be accomplished with the support of a large nation. The same goes for astronomy. Galileo was able to build a telescope that was more powerful than anything out there, point it at the moon and planets, and see things people had never seen before. These days, doing cutting-edge astronomy research requires a space telescope or an observatory, again costing millions or billions of dollars, putting cutting-edge astronomy research beyond the reach of an amateur. The amount of expertise has also gone up- science has advanced so much that it may take 10 years of higher education just to become familiar with the science that has already been done, before you can start actually making major discoveries yourself. That kind of time commitment is difficult for an amateur working in their off-hours to match.

As a result, the vast majority of scientific discoveries are made by full-time scientists employed by universities, research institutions, or corporations, working in teams, and supported by their institutions or large granting agencies. It's not unique to science, we see this with technology as well. Back in the day, Orville and Wilbur Wright put together the world's most advanced aircraft in their bicycle workshop; these days huge teams of engineers labor at Boeing or Skunkworks to put together the newest plane. The Apple I was put together by hobbyists, the latest iPad involves huge teams of designers and programmers working in collaboration with Chinese factories. As a field advances, it's harder and harder for someone with limited resources and limited time to make a major contribution.

Re:Materials (2)

BackyardBrains (2652111) | more than 2 years ago | (#40362415)

Science is often about asking the right question and the appropriate experimental design. The statements you make above have been repeated through the ages. We shall be continually be surprised by amateurs with curiosity. SpaceX and James Cameron's recent ocean dive could be considered to be done by rich "amateurs" who went professional.

Re:Materials (1)

MalachiK (1944624) | more than 2 years ago | (#40362783)

Yes, but surely the point is that the stuff that Cameron's been doing is in a whole different league to Galileo slapping together a couple of lenses and discovering that the moons of Jupiter go around in circles or just sitting down and thinking about a cage of insects buzzing about in a box on board a ship.

In physics it's pretty much the case that all the low hanging fruit has been picked. The experimental stuff takes large amounts of money. The purely theoretical stuff gets picked over by an army of professional thinkers every day. If there were any obvious flaws in relativity or quantum mechanics then it's almost certain that someone would have spotted them by now. I'm not saying that there's never going to be another paradigm shift - but it isn't going to happen by way of some amateur demonstrating that, say, GR is invalid by watching a pendulum swinging in the back yard.. In fact, any serious advance in physics will probably be driven by experimental results - and these are expensive to produce.

Re:Materials (2)

BackyardBrains (2652111) | more than 2 years ago | (#40363619)

Galileo slapping together lenses was incredibly "cutting edge" (pun intended) for its time. It was a brand new field dominated by very talented craftsman. It just seems quaint now. Though you may come from physics, I come from the field of neuroscience where there are literally so many unanswered questions that amateurs can discover things just by recording and analyzing animal behavior. See Bob Full's elegant work at Berkeley: high speed photography of animal locomotion that could have been done by an amateur willing to invest in equipment. Science is about asking the question, not the equipment you have. Perhaps this no longer holds for physics.

Re:Materials (2)

Belial6 (794905) | more than 2 years ago | (#40362583)

Not really. I would guess, just guess mind you, that there are plenty of "fill in the gaps" discoveries to be made. Things that when posted on Slashdot will elicit insults about how anyone with an electron microscope COULD have done it.

There is also the fact that when armatures do the same experiments that the pros do, the results are more likely to make it into the general public. A 12 year old is unlikely read an expensive, for pay, peer reviewed article. On the other hand, they might do the experiment at home.

Even for the pros, it is much better to have a teen enter the field with 5-10 years of experience in the simpler areas of the field when they enter college than it is to have them starting from scratch at 18 or 19.

Re:Materials (1)

Smauler (915644) | more than 2 years ago | (#40364481)

the trend is clear- amateurs are playing less and less of a role. The biggest reason is that it's simply harder to make a discovery now than it was 100 or 200 years ago.

This is the case in some fields, but not others. Within mathematics and physics, it is still currently entirely possible to make new discoveries without apparatus. You've got to specialise, and you'll probably have to work most of your life trying to do it, and you'll probably be unsuccessful, but that was always the case.

The major hurdle is testing theories - I'd wager that there are at least tens, if not hundreds of theories out there that have been posited, and are a huge improvement over our current scientific consensus. Testing whether they are correct is the tough bit. In some fields this can be prohibitively expensive, that is the problem.

This kind of goes back to why "wonder drugs" that are discovered are not immediately implemented. The testing of efficacy is the tough bit, not the postulation of it.

Back in the day, Orville and Wilbur Wright put together the world's most advanced aircraft in their bicycle workshop; these days huge teams of engineers labor at Boeing or Skunkworks to put together the newest plane.

You're not comparing like with like. Back in the day, most people in the multi-million research lab equivalents of the time thought flight was impossible - that's _why_ the wright brothers used their bicycle workshop. Those university and government research labs existed, they just did not believe flight was in any way practical.

Overall, I do agree with the sentiment of your post, in that I agree it has got harder. However, I do think it is inflating the issue a lot, diminishing the amateurs of the past, and underestimating the potential of possible new amateur discoveries. The examples you have given for things that could not have been achieved today are once in a generation discoveries - you don't expect to see them occurring regularly.

Re:Materials (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40365301)

We have reached the point where, to advance individually, we must advance as a whole. As crowded as Earth is, and as complex and varied as our needs are, we can no longer sit back and pretend to be islands unto ourselves. We employ specialized scientists by the thousands--we have become insects. The utility of amateur (that is, unpaid, not necessarily unskilled or ignorant) scientists is their freedom to range over all the areas of knowledge we possess, often repurposing techniques or drawing inspiration and analogs from other areas. They provide vitality and breadth, whereas a systemic, hyper-specialized endeavor provides depth. Things formally planned tend to eliminate spontaneous mutations.

Re:Materials (1)

tburkhol (121842) | more than 2 years ago | (#40363105)

For instance, how does one purify dNTPs at home?

You could do it the way Kornberg's group did when isolating DNA synthase to begin with. Their paper is even online, for free [jbc.org] . It amounts to growing a lot of e coli (or grinding up a bunch of thymus), reducing the DNA to its component monomers by digestion with DNAse extracted from pancreas and snake venom phosphodiesterase (although one could use alkaline hydrolysis, too), and purifying them by ion-exchange chromatography through a Dowex resin. None of that is especially hard, nor requiring of high-tech apparatus. Well, maybe if you want to get and verify that it's 99+% pure...

It's way more time consuming than calling Promega, but hobbyist endeavors are all characterized by having more time than money.

Re:Materials (1)

Hatta (162192) | more than 2 years ago | (#40363321)

Now that's awesome. Pulling that off at home would be difficult, but doable. Sounds like fun. Doing PCR from scratch at home would be quite the accomplishment.

Re:Materials (1)

mbkennel (97636) | more than 2 years ago | (#40364675)

crap, this like like building your own oscilloscope. Doable (to get something which may be 1940's quality), but a waste of time.

There's a reason why money for high quality scientific instrumentation and supplies is valuable.

If the amateurs are going to be wasting even more of their time replacing the manufacture of standard items, poorly, they they will contribute even less to advancing science than otherwise.

When condoms break. (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40361647)

Do It Yourself Biology Research, Past and Present

Teenagers know this too well.

What is this disposable income of which you speak? (1)

davidwr (791652) | more than 2 years ago | (#40361717)

Please tell me more.

Re:What is this disposable income of which you spe (2)

MagusSlurpy (592575) | more than 2 years ago | (#40365323)

It's the income the government takes from you and disposes of.

If ever hobbyist science becomes important (4, Interesting)

mbkennel (97636) | more than 2 years ago | (#40361739)

becomes significant, it means that the existing scientific base and funding was wrecked. (Feels like Roman Empire AD400).

In reality, people who work at something for a living (meaning full time employement) after many years of full time education, are the ones who produce results which are scientifically and economically useful.

Hobbyist science is nice entertainment. Sure, a few former biologists (i.e. used to work full time learning and doing science until they couldn't get a job any more) might make some minor contributions----but their experience and knowledge came from working full time in the real industry.

And nearly all professional science is "do it yourself or get your postdocs to do it"---who else knows enough? It takes lots of money and full time sustained effort for decades to get somewhere.

Comparing today to Darwin's day is foolish---scientific productivity increased enormously once a significant number of people were able to do it for a living and with less regard for class history and personal family wealth.

Re:If ever hobbyist science becomes important (5, Insightful)

dkleinsc (563838) | more than 2 years ago | (#40361981)

Hobbyist science has always been part of the mix, sometimes an important part of the mix. Some examples:
* Isaac Newton was actually an alchemist by trade - the physics and math were basically just fun side projects.
* Albert Einstein published some of his most important stuff while working as a patent clerk.
* Grote Reber was one of the key pioneers in radio astronomy working with a telescope he'd built in his backyard.

Now, I'll grant you that often amateur science is, well, amateurish, but occasionally an amateur scientist strikes gold, and I see no reason to discourage people from messing with it. They aren't going to be as good at it as the professionals, but at worst they accomplish nothing except have a little fun, and at best they add something to the scientific knowledge of humanity. Another way of looking at the argument: 100 pros could perhaps come up with 15 useful results a year, while 10000 amateurs could perhaps come up with 2. The pros are obviously much better than the amateurs, but we're all better off with 17 useful results than 15 useful results.

Re:If ever hobbyist science becomes important (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40362059)

Don't forget gentleman scientists like Lord Kelvin.

Re:If ever hobbyist science becomes important (1)

Qzukk (229616) | more than 2 years ago | (#40362509)

gentleman scientists

Is that how one should address the Lord Kelvin [zapatopi.net] ?

Re:If ever hobbyist science becomes important (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40362627)

This may be true before 1980s. Have you heard any amateur with any remotely important findings in medicine since then? Not that I know of. (Disclaimer: I work as a medical scientist with a Ph.D.)

Re:If ever hobbyist science becomes important (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 2 years ago | (#40362735)

This may be true before 1980s. Have you heard any amateur with any remotely important findings in medicine since then?

Given the regulations imposed on medical research over the last few decades, that's not really surprising. Joe Home-Researcher can't just cut up dead bodies or feed people random chemicals and see what happens any more.

Re:If ever hobbyist science becomes important (1)

dkleinsc (563838) | more than 2 years ago | (#40362817)

One that was popularized was Lorenzo's oil [wikipedia.org] as a treatment for adrenoleukodystrophy in 1985. The treatment is not entirely proven, but it does seem to be useful in many cases.

Re:If ever hobbyist science becomes important (5, Insightful)

tburkhol (121842) | more than 2 years ago | (#40362859)

First, I'd say that fundamental advances are changes in the basic way we look at things. I think they happen most when someone is not encumbered by the existing dogma, and open whole new areas in which even professional scientists lack expertise. What were the limits of evolutionary biology before Darwin? Very little "science" actually happens that way - most of it is the somewhat plodding refinement and clarification of existing theory, and professional scientists are definitely better suited to make those kinds of advances. Of course, it's hard to distinguish "revolutionary" from "crackpot," and having a professional reputation helps in that distinction.

Second, I would say that it is not even important for a home scientist to make truly novel findings or advances. I think the principle value in home study of biology, or chemistry, or anything else, is to make that knowledge personal. If you think science is interesting, then go do it! Millions of people play basketball, despite having no chance of ever making it a career. Millions play guitar, or piano, without any ambition to give concerts. Or paint. Or write. We don't mock any of those people, or condescend to them like they're wasting their time. Or tell them they'd be better off reading reports of the NBA playoffs than actually going out on the court. Why should discovering the world around you be restricted to people who can push at the recognized boundaries of knowledge?

Re:If ever hobbyist science becomes important (2)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 2 years ago | (#40363867)

Exactly this. Don't expect Nobel Prizes, expect interested and informed people. And likely only a few of them - this isn't something that you are going to find on Jersey Shore. Remember, amateurs do things because they want to.

That's all that has to happen.

Re:If ever hobbyist science becomes important (1)

slasho81 (455509) | more than 2 years ago | (#40363125)

I'll grant you that often amateur science is, well, amateurish, but occasionally an amateur scientist strikes gold

Often professional science is amateurish, but occasionally a professional scientist strikes gold.

Re:If ever hobbyist science becomes important (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#40363219)

I would argue that the examples you gave are primarily of people working in comparatively shallow fields—TFA suggests that DIY biologists may come up with the "novel, visionary approaches" necessary to develop "the next-generation vaccines and anti-microbials, and autologous replacement organs." That's a lot of background knowledge for a hobbyist!

Re:If ever hobbyist science becomes important (1)

mbkennel (97636) | more than 2 years ago | (#40364203)

"* Isaac Newton was actually an alchemist by trade - the physics and math were basically just fun side projects."

Well, Newton was employed full time at the leading scientific research of the UK. Wasn't quite "fun side project" as opposed to work to publish Principia Mathematica.

"* Albert Einstein published some of his most important stuff while working as a patent clerk."

Sure, and he did so after getting a PhD from a prominent research university, and the experimental evidence he used to come of with his theories, and to validate his theories, came from sustained professional researchers.

Re:If ever hobbyist science becomes important (1)

MagusSlurpy (592575) | more than 2 years ago | (#40365357)

They aren't going to be as good at it as the professionals, but at worst they accomplish nothing except have a little fun, and at best they add something to the scientific knowledge of humanity.

Well, at worst their amateurishly-cultivated strain of HIV ("obtained" from a lady in Vegas) mutates into some airborne ultrapotent strain in its beaker in the garage, until the cat knocks it over, licks it up, and proceeds to spread it throughout the neighborhood, bringing the completely downfall of humankind.

Man, cats are evil.

Re:If ever hobbyist science becomes important (2)

0123456 (636235) | more than 2 years ago | (#40362045)

I suspect IBM said the same about those amateurs thinking they could build computers in their garage.

Re:If ever hobbyist science becomes important (1)

mbkennel (97636) | more than 2 years ago | (#40364613)

Only when they built computers in factories and employed full-time engineers to design hardware and software were they significant to more than a tiny number of people.

What could possibly go wrong? (2)

jrmcc (703725) | more than 2 years ago | (#40361765)

I have complete faith in the biologist next door to not produce some new killer life form.

It's not the guy next door that's dangerous (1)

davidwr (791652) | more than 2 years ago | (#40361833)

It's the guy who buys a large plot of land out in the middle of nowhere so the neighbors won't notice the smell that you have to worry about.

You dont need a lab to do biology. (-1, Flamebait)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | more than 2 years ago | (#40361775)

Come on guys. Quit perpetuating the myth that you need expensive equipment and a sophisticated laboratories to do biology. All you need is the Bible. Millions of creationist bloggers have proven it to be so.

Re:You dont need a lab to do biology. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40361889)

So this comment went from 'hey everyone can experiment' to 'lets hate on some group I dont like'. nice.

Re:You dont need a lab to do biology. (1)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | more than 2 years ago | (#40362197)

I ridiculed them creationists, did not hate them. They are Americans too and have as much rights to their belief system as I do. They do have the right to even claim their belief system is science. But I have the right to laugh at them when they do that. Freedom of expression is guaranteed by the constitution. One of the consequences of expressing dumb ideas is to be laughed at for it. The constitution will not protect the imagined pride of the dimwits, it will protect my right to express my view that "it is ridiculous to claim creationism is science".

Re:You dont need a lab to do biology. (0)

Belial6 (794905) | more than 2 years ago | (#40363007)

The problem is that the rest of us were not talking about dumb creationist. Were were having a completely different conversation when you decided to change the subject to dumb creationists. You might as well have started ranting about CleanMyPC.

Re:You dont need a lab to do biology. (1)

amRadioHed (463061) | more than 2 years ago | (#40363513)

Quit whinging. It was a joke, an apropos one at that. And he didn't interrupt anyone's conversation, he started a new thread.

Re:You dont need a lab to do biology. (1)

Belial6 (794905) | more than 2 years ago | (#40363763)

Apropos clearly doesn't mean what you think it means.

Re:You dont need a lab to do biology. (1)

amRadioHed (463061) | more than 2 years ago | (#40363915)

Actually it does.

Re:You dont need a lab to do biology. (1)

Belial6 (794905) | more than 2 years ago | (#40364699)

You keep telling yourself that....

Re:You dont need a lab to do biology. (1)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | more than 2 years ago | (#40365243)

First you mistook ridicule for hatred. Then you thought you can tell what should be discussed and what should not be. Then mistook opening a new thread with interjecting in some other thread. Then you showed you did not know the meaning of the word apropos. Then proved that you do not look up the dictionary just to be safe. Take a look at what it means. [merriam-webster.com] . No wonder people laugh at the apologists for creationists more than they laugh at the creationists. They are usually simple minded folks who are mostly honest but gullible.

Head to Fukushima (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40361855)

You fucking pussies.
You fucking oath breakers
You fucking pieces of shit
http://enenews.com/finland-announces-detection-of-cesium-from-fukushima-found-in-animals-plants-fungi

Good fucking luck (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40361865)

not getting your god damn house raided or just getting arrested until the police trump up a charge on you. Just the act of purchasing hydroponics equipment for my indoor vegetable garden got me served with a search warrant. The kitchen in my new home has a wall knocked out and a "greenhouse" addition added on. There is a glass "half-dome" extending from this about 5 feet out and 6 feet high. Previous owners had a dirt bed there (yes, indoor dirt bed). I filled that in and setup a proper hydroponics system.

Got fucking served with a search warrant.

Fuck all judges, lawyers, and cops.

Re:Good fucking luck (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 2 years ago | (#40361987)

So when they came and found nothing illegal, what happened?

Re:Good fucking luck (0)

0123456 (636235) | more than 2 years ago | (#40362027)

So when they came and found nothing illegal, what happened?

He had to clean up the mess where they'd smashed in the doors and windows and thrown everything out of the drawers and cupboards, then explain to his neighbors and work colleagues that, no, he wasn't actually a drug dealer?

Re:Good fucking luck (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40362169)

They searched my house thoroughly and then left. No apologies. They actually didn't destroy anything or open any drawers. They found what they were looking for in the garden, and then checked the rest of the house. The items listed on the warrant were too large to fit in drawers, etc. They were at the house for about 20 minutes. It looked incredibly bad to the neighbors.

I suspect it was a neighbor seeing me carry in all the stuff from my car. It must have been some sort of "tip" because the only other entity it could have been would have been the hydroponics store itself. And even then, it would have been reported as nothing more than suspicious purchases. I do look like a pot head, though.

In my opinion, a warrant should have never been issued on the grounds of the purchases alone. It was about $1500 in hydroponics equipment.

Re:Good fucking luck (1)

Jeng (926980) | more than 2 years ago | (#40362285)

Most probably the hydroponics shop has a deal with the cops where they report any major purchases by individuals. The hydroponic shop may get a portion of the proceeds of what is seized as motivation.

Re:Good fucking luck (1)

Hatta (162192) | more than 2 years ago | (#40362351)

Cops around here stake out the hydroponics stores, get license plates from customers, and then harass them.

Re:Good fucking luck (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40363463)

Around here, the judges think that $1500 of hydroponics equipment *is* evidence of a grow op. The cops don't even need to call in a fake tip like they do with increased power usage.

As some one who has a lab at home (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40361879)

I found the article interesting. I personally have a nice set up with an iso class 100 clean room, laminar flow hood, laser particle counter spectrophotometer, and a lot of glass ware. However, it comes with a down side. With all the anti-terror and drug laws about 90% of my stuff is illegal to have unless you are a registered lab, which I am not. So I have to keep an eye on how it all looks from the outside. No need for my door to be kicked in.

Thank god for E-Bay, You can get it all even if it is illegal where you live.

Next on my list is an HPLC, provided I can find one at a good price.

Call me when (1)

Prune (557140) | more than 2 years ago | (#40361991)

...they post instructions on making grey goo. *puts on flamebait retardant clothes*

Re:Call me when (1)

marcosdumay (620877) | more than 2 years ago | (#40363111)

You probably won't make grey goo on a bio lab. The things that come out of those labs are normaly digestable by current life, and vunerable to antibodies.

Go look for those instructions at a physics lab. You have better odds there.

Totally true, I've taken classes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40362035)

This is totally true, there is a lot of bio-hobby stuff out there. You can analyze your own DNA, make bacteria smell like bananas, glow in ultraviolet light, etc. etc.

In NYC, there a place called Genspace that offers classes.

http://genspace.org/blog/

How about breeding plant varieties? (4, Interesting)

PeterM from Berkeley (15510) | more than 2 years ago | (#40362071)

I don't think people realize how much threat there is to worldwide food security just from new pests/diseases coming along.

1) Commercial bananas are going extinct due to a fungus. Last I heard, there was no replacement crop that is resistant. This has happened several times in this industry, but this time there's no good replacement banana.
2) Citrus (all commercial citrus) are going extinct due to a bacterium spread by sap-sucking insects. No resistant replacement crops that I know of.
3) Chocolate, same deal, I forget the disease/vector.
4) Wheat is under threat, too.

Breeding new plant varieties is something everyone can try. One of them may be both resistant and commercially viable.

--PM

Re:How about breeding plant varieties? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40362491)

You are absolutely full of shit.

http://www.snopes.com/food/warnings/bananas.asp [snopes.com]

Commercial citrus is just as varied, if not more so, than bananas. Citrus is also easily grafted to hardy/resistant root stocks to keep varieties viable.

Chocolate is not going extinct... it's value as a cash crop in Africa is decreasing because the time between planting and harvesting is extremely long for such meager profits.

Wheat? Come on man, are you trolling at this point or are you just completely misinformed?

Re:How about breeding plant varieties? (2)

ChromeAeonium (1026952) | more than 2 years ago | (#40363431)

Yes and no on those. Bananas are not going to go extinct, but there may be sever problems with the Cavendish, as there was with the Gros Michael. It certainly isn't doomsday thing, but it could be pretty bad. There are actually a lot of varieties of banana, but only a few major export varieties. What I'd really worry about here is not the fungal diseases of black sigatoka and Panama disease, but the bacterial disease banana xanthomonas wilt, which could pose dangerous problems for areas of Africa where bananas and plantains are a major source of calories. I don't think there is much, if any, naturally occurring resistance to BXW so genetic enginering might be the only option for this one (which rules out the home breeding thing).

Citrus on the other hand is very threatened by citrus greening. I don't think there is any natural resistance to it. Grafting to rootstocks does help for some diseases in some cases, but not this one. Biotech looks to be the only option for this one too.

Chocolate problems are partially due to the aging trees that are not being replaced, but diseases like witches' broom are also a major limiting factor in production.

As for wheat, Ug99 is still a major threat to wheat production in some parts of the world, so I would not call that misinformation.

Re:How about breeding plant varieties? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40363499)

So bananas *do* have a threatening disease, and it would only take somebody with a lot of frequent flyer miles and a hatred of bananas to utterly destroy them?

I know what I'm doing for vacation.

Re:How about breeding plant varieties? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40362741)

These species are under threat due to an overabused land which is farmed with chemicals which destroy the natural immunity that a fully natural ecosytem (organic) would provide. The plants are chemically fed and chemically protected and as a result are weak and prone to catching diseases, once they take root, the now strongly growing diseases can jump to stronger plants. The answer is to abandon the chemical route and respect the plethora of benefits that an organic growing system provides. Read the book "Empty Harvest" for more info http://www.amazon.com/Empty-Harvest-Bernard-Jensen/dp/089529558X [amazon.com] .

Re:How about breeding plant varieties? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40362829)

Mendelian Genetics is still (mostly) applicable, and Mendel was, by most measures, a 'amateur' plant breeder. Plant breeding and seed saving are very, very viable methods to increasing yield and resistance to diseases.
Bananas are a special issue since they are vegetatively propogated (since they are triploid and sterile), and therefore all plants of a given variety are genetically identical, which means that one cannot select to breed in resistance.

Re:How about breeding plant varieties? (3, Informative)

ChromeAeonium (1026952) | more than 2 years ago | (#40362899)

That is a good idea, but one thing I'd add is trying under cultivated species. There are a lot of plants that represent potentially significant agricultural species, but often there has been limited work on these plants. There is little funding for these things in major private or university programs because there isn't much consumer demand for them, and of course without superior varieties you might not be able to create demand, so you won't be able to justify programs on them, and its a nasty circle. Your examples would be pretty tough because there are already people working on them so an individual's contributions will be relatively smaller, and in some cases the problems themselves are pretty tough. Citrus greening for example IIRC has no known natural sources of resistance, so its pretty hard to breed in something not found in the family.

So, if you get some land, I'd suggest trying to breed undercultivated fruit like Japanese raisin tree, goumi, honeyberry, maypop, mulberry, ect., and if you live in a tropical spot you've got lots more options (or course, breeding fruit takes lots of room and thousands of plants and takes a long time so this would be a long term project) or undercultivated vegetables like yacón, jícama , kutjera, salicornia, New Zealand spinach (which is actually not a spinach and is more closely related to living stone plants), or undercultivated grains like quinoa, teff, and Job's tears, just to name a few of varying degrees of cultivation and existing improvement work. Even 'weeds' like spurge nettle are edible. [eattheweeds.com] There is a lot of potential, both in terms of agricultural benefit and culinary value, but since there is so little work being done on these types of things, perhaps crowd-sourced breeding is the best option for the advancement of biodiversity. I'd love to do this myself if I had the land.

Re:How about breeding plant varieties? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40362911)

Bullshit. You are full of it.

Not completely right (1)

marcosdumay (620877) | more than 2 years ago | (#40363221)

1) There are commercial varieties of bananas resitent to that fungus, but some of them aren't. We are looking at the reduction of the diversity of bananas, not its extinction. But the fungus doen't spread as fast as it can for some reason (that I don't know), so not even that may happen.

2) There are again several varietes of commercial citrus resistent to that plague. Also, it is easy to cross-breed citrus, so there are new resistent varieties appearing all the time. Finally, the insect that spreads the plague is easily controlled, you just can't spray conventional insecticides, and its predators will take care of the rest. If they don't, you can add more predators or spray targeted insecticides.

3) Not all trees of the chocolate fruit (what is its name in english?) are vunerable to their plage. Also, there are several biological tools to fight it that involve mostly not having a monoculture.

4) Now, I know nothing about wheat.

Re:Not completely right (1)

Zerth (26112) | more than 2 years ago | (#40363525)

Theobroma cacao, or cacao/cocoa tree

Re:Not completely right (1)

PeterM from Berkeley (15510) | more than 2 years ago | (#40365075)

It's the Cavendish banana, the common store variety, which is getting wiped out. None of the other banana varieties have the same nice properties that make them great for shipping and sale.

While there are resistant bananas, none of them have the same commercial value as the Cavendish banana.

I wasn't aware of any commercial citrus that are resistant to citrus greening: perhaps I was mislead by the article I read, which implied that there were *no* commercial varieties that are resistant. I turned up a few references to GMO resistant varieties: these may take over. Also, I found an article that listed that the psyllid which spreads citrus greening is developing pesticide resistance.

I'm glad to hear there are resistant varieties of cacao: I'll bet that none of these is quite as nice as the non-resistant mainstream variety.

All of what you say goes to supporting my point, though. We need more varieties of foods because the mainstream ones are being decimated.

--PM

Re:Not completely right (1)

marcosdumay (620877) | more than 2 years ago | (#40365251)

Ok, I actualy didn't know the cavendish banana was the most common store variety. Around here most people (that includes me) simply don't like it, altough it is tasty when coocked. It is interesting that I never saw that fungus in action, I always assumed it plagued some varieties of banana that we don't plant here at Brazil, but we do plant it. Maybe it simply didn't reach here yet.

The psyllid - hey, I'm learning dificult english words fast here :) - that carriers the citrus greening gets insecticide resistance like much any other kind of insect. But that is not even the biggest problem, if you use large spectrum insectice, it is likely that the infestation will come back, and larger. People are all the time developping new insecticides, but biological control is the cheaper and best way to deal with it, unless the situation is already out of control.

The resistent cacao doesn't constitute a variety. Some plants simply don't get the plague, but they tend to produce a little less. Things are quite new on that front, and cacao takes some time to mature, maybe in the future we'll get trees that produce as much as the normal ones, but are resistant to it, or maybe not.

Anyway, your point stays. You are right. A bigger variety of foods will not only make our culture more resilient, it will also make them more resistent (monocultures are a great hatchery of plagues), more stable economicaly, may improve productivity (as one chooses the best culture for each land), and will be more tasty too, or at least have a more diverse taste.

Re:How about breeding plant varieties? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40363883)

Regardless of the accuracy of the claims about "bananas are going extinct" finding new breeds is not our main problem but changing practices to farm with bio-diversity in the breeds we grow is. When you plant the same potato on 10,000 acres you're just begging mother nature to adapt a creature to use your diversity challenged potatoes as shapely rounded brown housing. Or to adapt some fungus, disease or who-know-what to kill off the crop. In Peru they grow hundreds of varieties of potato and just as like the rest of us occasionally one variety gets attacked by killer beatle (insert your own agricultural disaster here). But diversity saves them from famine or in losing access to the crop altogether. Diversity is nature's way of hedging it's bets. Think stock market here. Bet on one stock, don't be surprised when you lose all your money when they go bankrupt. Our farming practices are suspect, not only from a healthy food production aspect but from a smart food production viewpoint.

Before doing it with biology (1)

mapkinase (958129) | more than 2 years ago | (#40362297)

Let's try first to do it with a chemical laboratory or physical laboratory. Let's see how long it will take you to get your government interested in your research. I am sure as a result of such interest you will be able to apply for a 10-year 3-meal-a-day grant.

Genome experimentation made easy (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40362303)

http://www.genomecompiler.com/

See also the TWiT special: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BLhU1RGTHN4

This technology changes everything: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40363073)

http://www.nanoporetech.com/technology/minion-a-miniaturised-sensing-instrument

On the other hand, trying to do old school molecular biology in a home lab would not be fun. Its not even fun in a real lab.

garages, innovation, and security (1)

Rob Carlson (848359) | more than 2 years ago | (#40363423)

For those who are interested, the official position of the US Government on garage labs can be found in The National Strategy for Countering Biological Threats (PDF [whitehouse.gov] ), signed by the President. Paraphrasing, the report says 'Garage biology is good and necessary for the future physical and economic security of the United States.' Also, in a shameless plug, here is a link to the book mentioned in the article, Biology is Technology [biologyistechnology.com] .

How odd (1)

pubwvj (1045960) | more than 2 years ago | (#40363537)

What an odd idea that one wouldn't do D-I-Y research. There is a long, long history of research outside of academia and outside of the big labs. I do a lot of research, some of which I've published - on my blog. The Internet has made it easier to publish, and getting peer reviewed, outside of the strangle hold of universities and the journals. This sharing of knowledge is the real boon of the Internet. The games and other entertainment are just sideshows.

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