Biohackers constructed their temple for amatuer bio-creativity in 2009, with the establishment of Brooklyn-based Genspace, the world’s first government-compliant DIY biotech lab.
As Casey Research commentator Doug Hornig put it in Biohackers, Our Next Computer Revolution or Global Catastrophe in the Making?
: "Genspace is the democratization of science in a nutshell, a nonprofit funded by membership dues, tuition fees, and donations from supportive nonmembers. You can attach yourself to one of the scientists already embarked on a project, or you can set up one of your own. The only credential you need to bring is your enthusiasm for the subject, with Ph.D.s onsite to help you through the rough spots."
The idea is spreading across the globe. In the U.S. alone, there are now about a dozen community biolabs, or "hackerspaces," as they're known. Along with Genspace
, they include Boston's Open Source Science Lab, BOSSLAB
in the San Francisco Bay Area, and Los Angeles as well as Bio, Tech and Beyond
, which just opened near me at Carlsbad California. More information on local groups and standards for laboratory safety can be found at DIYbio.org
Hornig again: "Everyone admits that there are risks involved in fooling around with synthetic life forms. But the biggest one is the threat of bioterrorism, and that's probably not going to come from the public DIY Bio community. The horrible killer virus that unleashes World War Z is far more likely to emerge from a secret lab of some dedicated terrorist group. And you can be sure that the international intelligence agencies are on high alert for signs of any such development."
As for regulation, the U.S. government so far hasn't taken any steps to control at-home biology.
Or will we hack in code? Arduino's Raspberry Pi "computer on a board"
has dazzled members of the Do It Yourself movement. Now Intel has leaped in with an improved version. It will give away 50,000 of them to universities soon.
Clues for our next hacks
Naked mole rats have what any animal would want. They live long lives—about 30 years—and stay healthy until the very end. Now biologists at the University of Rochester have new insights into the animal's longevity
— better-constructed proteins.
Bad news for Singularity Zealots! Our brains may be much more complex than simply the sum of a trillion synapses . Although the human brain contains roughly 100 billion neurons, it contains billions more non-electrical brain cells called glia. I have long held that this network of cells does a lot more than just support and feed neurons. Indeed, I've suggested -- way back in EARTH
(1989) -- that the glia and astrocytes might be true computational centers and the neurons serve as flashy communications hubs between them. All major glial cell types in the brain — oligodendrocytes, microglia and astrocytes — communicate with each other and with neurons by using chemical neurotransmitters and gap junctions, channels that permit the direct transfer between cells of ions and small molecules. Research is revealing that glia can sense neuronal activity and control it. Now this "second brain" is getting a fresh look.
I've just written a creepy story about this: Tissue Engineering: How to Build a Heart
. With thousands of people in need of heart transplants, researchers are trying to grow new organs. The "scaffolding" approach is gaining steam. Watch next year for my novelette that takes it to… extremes!