Can DIY biology change the world?
In a sea full of innovation, failures and far-fetched ideas most scientists face an obstacle. That obstacle is the likelihood of rejection. Rest assured, the emergence of the DIY biology movement fosters individuals to participate in a world of life science, no matter what their circumstance, where the possibilities are limitless. The appeal of DIY biology stems from lowered costs, the entertaining factor and its educational advantages. As costs fall, levels of innovations rise. The aim of this work is to discuss why DIY biology has become the new hype, its possibilities and criticisms. With the rapid expansion of biohacking comes enthusiasm, excitement and unease. Whilst its success is dependent upon its contributors, one must question whether DIY biology’s risks outweigh its innovations. To summarize, DIY biology is a powerful movement that has the potential to change the world.
Furthermore, some DIY biology groups are working towards maintaining an environmentally-friendly ecosystem. Antony Evans, the founder of a synthetic biology group called TAXA, works to produce consumer products through genetic engineering. One of the first produced products was a glowing plant. The aim of this work is to replace household light sources in the near future. TAXA have found an alternative to using petroleum inputs that create toxic by-products through using fragrant moss. Growing your own moss in the home using carbon dioxide, sunlight and water, it can be a substitute to the use of conventional air fresheners. The environmental benefits of these technologies are massive.
But can such work be taken seriously; can we trust non-legislated labour and where do ethical concerns come into practice? Josiah Zayner, an ex NASA scientist decided to purify the DNA of his own gut bacteria. His success led to him quitting NASA and becoming a molecular biologist. He is best known for his campaigns to make genetic engineering CRISPR kits widely accessible to the general public. In the same way computer hackers from 1980s transformed society, Zayner believes that biohackers have the potential to revolutionise the 21st century. With the release of his yeast kits, the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) voiced their concerns for people buying it for improper uses.
After start-up companies introduced semi-professional, low-priced, portable laboratories to bio-enthusiasts, there was a divide in opinions. Whether one intentionally intends to do harm or not, some scientists fear that leaving biological experiments in the hands of untrained individuals in unregulated conditions can cause danger to the environment and public health. Zayner’s work concerned the EU after sending DIY CRISPR kits for bacteria in Germany. They made the attempt to ban this kit claiming that he had used pathogenic bacteria. Thus, there is an issue with using model organisms that are potentially pathogenic, for example E. coli. Whilst accusations were proved to not be true in this circumstance, that does not alleviate the fears of it actually happening.
Sparked controversy does not only exist due to fears of kits reaching the wrong hands, but through lack of authority regulations also. Recent claims of a Chinese scientist Jianku He editing twin babies’ genomes has become the great ethical debate. The Southern University of Science, where Mr He works, state to have no affiliation with his work. He used CRISPR-Cas9 technology for HIV resistance in a baby during IVF treatment. The result of his work will later be discovered, but has been criticised as being highly irresponsible. If someone who has had specialist training, working for a well-respected institution could do something potentially harming, then should we trust those who have little knowledge concerning life science? Enthusiasts propose the DIY biology community to be a transparent environment where amateurs are supervised by other biohackers or even professional scientists. Additionally, certain DIY biology groups have arranged classes for educating people on where they can begin.