My good friend Natalie Kuldell and I had the pleasure of participating at a recent Soapbox session hosted by the MIT Museum on DIY biology. (Though frankly, I prefer the term DIY bioengineering, because I think hobbyists are going to be a lot more excited by what they can build than by what they can study in the natural world.)
Probably the best part of the evening was when the audience got to answer two questions.
In response to the first, some wanted to engineer bugs that would clean the bathroom for you. Others wanted to make organisms that could consume nuclear waste. Still others wanted to make organisms that could diagnose what was wrong with their dogs. In response to the second, I think one audience member put it most succinctly when they asked, “Is it safe?”.
I think the DIY bioengineering community has a lot that they could contribute to synthetic biology and the world in general. But the safety risks and public perception issues can’t be ignored. Personally, I’d love to see the community coalesce around a DIYbioengineering model organism. For example, some of the recent suggestions on the DIYbio.org email list have been
DIY bioengineers have different constraints than conventional molecular biologists. By choosing a new model organism more suitable for their work, DIY bioengineers can both to break new ground in science and engineering and develop the foundational tools needed for DIY bioengineering to really take off.
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