Thursday, August 6, 2009

Biohackers playing with fire

NOTE: The inevitable result of the regulatory laxity and culture of complacency encouraged by the GM corporations and their scientific supporters and political allies.
Amateur Scientists Bioengineer from Home
Jessica Duff (USA), 3 August 2009

Bioengineering from home, called "biohackers", began in the United States but the popularity is spreading worldwide. Jessica Duff has more about this rapid hacker scheme in today's Web report.

Authorities say without regulations these amatuer scientists are playing with fire and it's the public that could get burned.

Amateur scientists are creating mutant microbes in labs they've set up in their own homes with the help of eBay and You Tube.

The growing group of self-styled "biohackers" say they are creating the genetically-engineered bugs in makeshift gene laboratories for fun. But authorities are concerned their unregulated activities threaten public health.

Kay Aull has a lab in her bedroom in Massachusetts. She made, or bought all her equipment second-hand from websites such as eBay.

"It's really just some simple biochemistry," says Aull. "It doesn't need to take place in the lab with scary equipment, there's no magic involved, it's chemistry. It's something you could cook up yourself."

Other biohackers are uploading videos of their experiments on to You Tube - with step by step instructions on how to make fluorescent bacteria. The movement is making authorities increasingly concerned about the public health threat from an accidental release of genetically modified organisms.

In response to the concerns, the garage geneticists are beginning to police themselves through online forums, anxious to prove that the fears are overblown.

"I'm sensing the cultural zeitgeist people have against scary biotech. I think the main danger is if you're doing it on your own - the chemicals can be considered hazardous waste so you need to know how to dispose it. Basically don't put it down the drain," says one garage geneticist.

The start-up company Ginkgo Bioworks is banking on a safe future for backroom biotechnology. It sells a kit that contains bio-bricks - small sections of dna that can be snapped together to programme living organisms. They've already been used to make bacteria that smell like bananas.

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