Food for thought: April 2010

 

April 2010: Biohackers

Ross Golden-Bannon

 

People concerned about the infiltration of the organic food supplywith GMO seeds blown on to pristine, organic crops might want to consider a new hobby which has sprung up across the USA: DIY genetic modification.

 

Equipped with a plethora of knowledge from the internet and equipment ordered online the new hobbyists are busily trying to create new life forms or biomachines by splicing and chopping DNA from different sources. The DNA of jellyfish is particularly popular as it can make things fluorescent which is why one amateur-god, Meredith L Patterson,

from San Francisco, ordered the DNA to try and alter yogurt bacteria. She hopes it will glow green when the chemical melamine is present as melamine was the substance that fatally contaminated baby formula in China in 2008.

This certainly seems like a reasonable endeavour and indeed other creations could mean the cheap and easy identification of contaminated water in the developing world or even biofuel generating

chlorophyll. Unfortunately, the activity is unregulated and considering the potential for either an innocent error let alone

malevolent intent the implications, if something were to go wrong, are frightening.

 

A gang of DIY geneticists have set up their own website www.DIYbio.org innocently stating that their aim is: "to help make biology a worthwhile pursuit for citizen scientists, amateur biologists, and DIY biological engineers who value openness and safety". Right, and those who don't value safety? Well, they're busy making flesh-eating

condiment bacteria.

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Joe McNamee remembers fellow Guild member in The Menu.

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