When Mr. M.H. sent me this one, all I had to do to know I would be blogging about it was to look at his subject header: "DIY GMO" it said. "Do it yourself genetically modified crops." But there was a great deal more going on in the article:
Consider these points:
A Canadian company is trying to make it possible for anyone to be a “biohacker” and make custom genetically modified organisms in their home kitchen.
Homemade GMOs may sound scary to some, but Toronto-based Synbiota thinks making genetic engineering technology available to ordinary people will lead to new products that we haven’t yet dreamed of.
But are things really so simple? Is that a technology we really can give to anyone? And do we even want to? Those were some of the questions I had when I showed up at a “biohacking party” hosted by Synbiota in a rented ranch-style bungalow in Austin, Texas, early this year.
In between sipping cups of beer from a keg in the backyard, party-goers could use software on a laptop in the living room to design a custom plasmid – a loop of DNA – that will turn E. coli bacteria the colour of your choice.
To explain, Synbiota CEO Connor Dickie pointed to the history of computer science. Today, even 12-year-olds can write cool little apps that make music or other things “that would never be conceived by the computer science PhDs from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s.”
He envisions a similar revolution in biology.
“A lot of fear around GMOs today is in my opinion based out of people that don’t have an understanding of what a GMO is,” he said, adding that part of the problem is that genetic technology has mainly only been accessible to researchers and big corporations such as Monsanto.
“This technology puts the same power in your hands,” Dickie said. “We’re making it possible for artists and designers and teenagers and mothers and students and educators to do real genetic engineering.”
All this prompts, of course, some high octane speculation of its own. Emily Chung, the author of the article, asks the question that I asked while I began to read the article, and that the reader has probably already asked as well: "But are things really so simple? Is that a technology we really can give to anyone? And do we even want to? Those were some of the questions I had when I showed up at a “biohacking party” hosted by Synbiota in a rented ranch-style bungalow in Austin, Texas, early this year."
The inventor pushing this technology, Connor Dickie, notes that the simple technology is as harmless as computer technology, and that people growing up with it will do things "undreamed of" by earlier PhD's in the subject. It's in that light perhaps that Ms. Chung's questions should be viewed. Those of my generation have watched almost the full evolution of the technology. IN our youth, computers were something for big government departments or, possibly, your largest local bank, or NASA. They were biug, clunky things with tape memory systems and punch cards. Then came the home computer; one could play simple "ping pong" games on the living room television set with a simple "blip" sound, then came pacman; computers became smaller. We became encased in an invisible web of surveillance while at the same time, a skilled hacker can flash crash stockmarkets or drain your(or anyone else's) bank account.
As the technology grew, so did its applications, and nefarious uses.
So applying Mr. Dickie's own example to "home-kit bioengineering" reveals an interesting possibility. His home-do-it-yourself genetic engineering - or "bio-hacking" kit - is the Commodore 64 home computer of bio-hacking. What will do-it-yourself genetic engineering look like in 25, 50, or one hundreds years? We have all heard the stories already of "designer babies". But what about designer monsters? What about so many home-made chimerical "creations", all done without due environmental impact studies - think only of Mon(ster)santo on steroids, without even its "bought-and-paid-for" government rubbing-stamping of its own "safety studies" in the mix. Does your neighbor's constantly barking dog annoy you when it visits your front lawn on a twice daily basis? Why not whip up a giant Venus flytrap to take care of the menace? After it eats a couple of neighborhood schoolchildren walking to school, one might finally "redesign" it to get the "kinks" out of the "code." That's when you notice a sudden plunge in the population of song birds and squirrels around your domicile. Fort Dedrick's bioweapons giving you fits and starts? Start a program of your own, including your own "therapies" and "cures."
There will, of course, be the inevitable attempt to "regulate" the technology, and one can hear the arguments now: "free and independent genetic engineering" will become an extension of the right of free speech and expression for one party, and a dangerous technology to be regulated out of the hands of the individual and into the hands of responsible corporations like Mon(ster)santo. And would one really trust any western government to come up with a sane regulatory policy after the mess they've made with GMOs?
See you on the flip side...