The Era of Garage Biotech

I think that a recent Wired piece on low cost biotechnology reinforces the points I have made on the future of open source biotechnology development and healthy life extension.

The era of garage biology is upon us. Want to participate? Take a moment to buy yourself a molecular biology lab on eBay. A mere $1,000 will get you a set of precision pipettors for handling liquids and an electrophoresis rig for analyzing DNA. Side trips to sites like BestUse and LabX (two of my favorites) may be required to round out your purchases with graduated cylinders or a PCR thermocycler for amplifying DNA. If you can't afford a particular gizmo, just wait six months - the supply of used laboratory gear only gets better with time. Links to sought-after reagents and protocols can be found at DNAHack. And, of course, Google is no end of help.

Still, don't expect to cure cancer right away, surprise your loved ones with a stylish new feather goatee, or crank out a devilish frankenbug. (Instant bioterrorism is likely beyond your reach, too.) The goodies you buy online require practice to use properly. The necessary skills may be acquired through trial and error, studying online curricula, or taking a lab course at a community college. Although there are cookbook recipes for procedures to purify DNA or insert it into a bacterium, bench biology is not easy; the many molecular manipulations required to play with genes demand real skills.

A wide range of applied biotechnology development is no more complicated than applied electronics - and the present results of the work of an initially small group of garage entrepreneurs in that field are fairly impressive. Good things happen when the price point of participation becomes low enough: there's never any shortage of ideas and skill compared to capital.

Comments

... i think that's a scary development, technology cuts both ways, good and bad ... while more people are working on a cure for diseases, just as much are working on new ways to create diseases ...

Posted by: Ripley at May 15th, 2005 5:11 AM

I really don't see that as the case; look at software and hardware development today. The individuals who are working on destructive uses of these technologies - outside state-funded militaries, that is - are a tiny minority and the rest of the community works to contain them.

Posted by: Reason at May 15th, 2005 10:50 AM

Ripley,

Look at history.

Who has caused most of the suffering and megadeaths in the past (particularly the 20th century)? Has it been lone individuals or has it been centralized institutions (such as governments)?

Now tell me again why I should fear radical decentralization of all technologies?

Posted by: Kurt at May 15th, 2005 12:50 PM

science, technology dosn't have directivity. only value neutrality.

Posted by: kotler at March 1st, 2008 10:15 AM

Post a comment; thoughtful, considered opinions are valued. Comments incorporating ad hominem attacks, advertising, and other forms of inappropriate behavior are likely to be deleted.

Note that there is a comment feed for those who like to keep up with conversations.