Innovative biology | Science & Technology

The past several years have seen the rapid growth of “Do-It-Yourself” synthetic biology groups, according to the Brookings Institution’s website. The Washington, D.C. based research group has reported the rise of these group in the United States and around the world, but the relative youth of this type of biology and its unregulated nature have spawned safety and ethical concerns for independent groups as well as those attending universities, such as Texas A&M.

BioRiidl, a DIYbio organization, defines Do-It-Yourself biology as “a biotechnological social movement in which individuals, communities, and small organizations study biology and life science using the same methods as traditional research institutions.”

 

Some of the safety steps taken by Texas A&M University in the biology research that is conducted were explained by Texas A&M’s director of biosafety Christine McFarland. 

“The Biosafety Program is responsible for providing training and support to faculty, staff and students to ensure compliance with all federal and institutional regulatory requirements associated with research reviewed by Texas A&M’s Institutional Biosafety Committee,” McFarland said. “The review of research must occur prior to the initiation of work that includes any use of pathogens and potential pathogens of humans, animals or plants.”

According to the Brookings Institution, since 2012, there has been a 138 percent and 266 percent increase in the number of DIYbio groups in the United States and Europe respectively. Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Latin America, Asia and Africa have also had smaller but still significant increases.

In 2005, Rob Carlson, former University of Washington Electrical Engineering Senior Scientist wrote a prominent Wired article titled “Splice It Yourself,” in which he discussed the emergence of what he described as “garbage biology.” According to Carlson, it would be possible to construct a fully functional genetic engineering laboratory with as little as $1,000 with purchases from eBay, the online auction and shopping website.

Later that year, Carlson constructed a laboratory in his garage from where he continued much of the work he had started at the Molecular Sciences Institute in Berkeley, California. Since then, many organizations composed of citizen science enthusiasts, who…

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