Amateur Bioengineering :eek:

Discussion in 'Biology & Genetics' started by Simon Anders, Jan 2, 2009.

  1. Simon Anders Valued Senior Member


    (the article appeared in a number of different news sources)

    That's right, people are creating new life forms at home, some of them with minimal science backgrounds. I love how this article has gone basically unremarked and there is little if any public debate about the issue. It's bad enough that selfish, completely unregulated (post-bush) corporations are playing fast and loose with all life on earth, but now amateurs get to tinker with the creation of new life forms.

    Wanna bet if there is a disaster these amateurs will be the handy excuse for any corporation?

    The 21st century's counterpart to the lone gunman will be the amateur bioengineer.
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  3. Hercules Rockefeller Beatings will continue until morale improves. Moderator

    The reason that no one is talking about this “story” is because it is a complete load of weapons-grade bullonium.

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    (apologies to Futurama)

    No, they’re not. It’s just a journalistic fluff piece. I can assure you that no one is “creating new life forms at home”.

    For a start, the journalist who wrote the article doesn’t appear to have much of a scientific background with which to assess the material in the article. For instance, this statement:

    ....indicates that he/she cannot distinguish between an incubator (for growing bacterial cultures) and a freezer (for storing bacterial stocks).

    Fantasy. During my various research projects over the years (in university labs) I have inserted genes for fluorescent proteins into a few different organisms, so I have a good appreciation for what’s involved. My current research involves engineering mammalian neuronal cell lines to conditionally express combinations of fluorescent proteins and other neurotransmitter proteins. There is no way someone is doing this in a makeshift dining room lab. It can be tricky to genetically engineer a simple ubiquitously expressed fluorescent protein, but to engineer a conditionally expressed marker that has high specificity for the activating compound (eg. melamine in yogurt) is another whole ball game. Trust me - it just isn’t happening in an amateur’s garage.

    And then the article went completely absurd....

    Vaccines? This is too stupid to dignify with an analysis. It clearly indicates that both the author and this 24 year old “who majored in biology” have no idea just what is involved in producing new vaccines.

    Firstly, this is just media hype as there is no danger of backyard amateurs accidentally releasing genetically engineered organisms because they’re not producing them in the first place.

    Secondly, I can say with complete certainty that no one is making a “synthetic organism” at home. There is a distinction between genetically modifying an existing organism and creating a synthetic organism from scratch. Whole institutes full of brilliant scientists with state-of-the-art equipment cannot make artificial life. (Although some are getting close – the J Craig Venter Institute has made some significant advances in this area.)

    You’ve got nothing to worry about Simon.

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  5. orcot Valued Senior Member

    So it would be imposible to make a mutant army with bad yogurt up in my attic?
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  7. Asguard Kiss my dark side Valued Senior Member

    now now, alot of people ARE creating new forms of life

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    just look in there fridges

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    (yes, mine tends to be one of them on occasion

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  8. cosmictraveler Be kind to yourself always. Valued Senior Member

    Here's a new form of "life" that doesn't look so good!

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  9. CharonZ Registered Senior Member

    I would be surprised, if they were genuinely "new".
    Beside the point that, as Hercules already showed extensively, the article in the OP is absolute BS, there is the question on how to define "new" life. Does every mutation makes a new life? In a Craig Venter institute (or whatever they are called right now) the claimed to did it, though in truth they just introduced a modified chromsome into an existing cell.

    Does a distinction like this make any sense at all and shouldn't it just be called a modified organism, rather than new life?
  10. (Q) Encephaloid Martini Valued Senior Member

    Wow! I would've expected more from you, Simon, than falling hook, line and sinker for this.
  11. Bishadi Banned Banned

    this is from the gal herself

    She is a writer.......... and is having fun

    because they are like you, complacent

    them 'whole institutes full of brilliant scientists' .....have no idea what life is upon mass.
  12. Roman Banned Banned

    You're an alarmist.
    Biologists have been tinkering with "genetic engineering" for the past hundred years.

    What do you think all those undergrad projects with Drosophila or Escherichia were?

    If you really want to freak about people creating new life that's dangerous, maybe you should get upset about fertility clinics or the lack of abortion on demand or something. It's the breeders that are doing the real damage.
  13. Asguard Kiss my dark side Valued Senior Member

    you just dont get jokes do you?
  14. CharonZ Registered Senior Member

    I normally get them in a dozen at wal-mart. And I also want to pull in grants with that.
  15. Exhumed Self ******. Registered Senior Member

    Hercules let his personal disdain for the poorly written article and annoying amateurish display cloud his judgement.

    That entirely depends on how you define it. It is quite easy to create a new strain at home.

    Maybe for you, but I, and others could do it at home. -_- In fact I distantly know someone who does (he is doing it at home but also employed at a university).

    It is quite easy to genetically engineer a infectious organism with potentially hazardous genes cloned inside. I don't even want to explain further. Cloning work could most certainly be done at home.

    Speaking of amateurs who did biology at home, you could add in a few recent nobel prize winners. The person who made PCR (forget the name) and Barbara McClintock (sp?) who discovered transposons.

    Not that I think much will come from the type of people working in this article, who seem to have a predisposition to trying to recycle old work to make things glow, and the other aims are just pop-culture inspired without any reason to suspect success.

    Obviously there is no advantage to operate in a home without the extremely expensive and essential equipment found in universities, and obviously there is no advantage to the investigators being people who have a BS in biology and other poor research backgrounds. From that perspective, who cares about these people?

    However, I am concerned about the safety aspect if this were to become widespread. Trained biologist operating in universities have rigid safety rules and they know what they are doing. I prefer not to have some fool looking for a cancer cure cloning a cancer gene into E. coli with his Qiagen kits in his sloppily run makeshift lab.
  16. Hercules Rockefeller Beatings will continue until morale improves. Moderator

    Firstly, I disagree that my judgement is “clouded”. All the other people in this thread who have agreed with my assessment don’t seem to think so either.

    Secondly, I disagree that my analysis is “annoying”. All the other people in this thread who have agreed with my analysis don’t seem to think so either.

    Thirdly, I am not an amateur. I am a professional scientist in the area of genetics and molecular biology. If you want to compare scientific qualifications and experience, then be my guest. I’m betting you’re a postgrad student of some sort. Yes? :scratchin:

    No, it isn’t. Regardless of how you define “new strain”, it is not easy to do so in a makeshift home laboratory by someone with limited knowledge/experience. It becomes somewhat easier in a properly equipped molecular biology lab.

    Wow, look at the brain on you! Very impressive. :bravo: You get a B[sup]+[/sup] for the attitude, but that’s all. You and these “others” can not do it at home, not without transplanting an entire molecular biology lab into your home. But then it’s not a home any more, it’s a bio lab. So the claim that you’re doing it at "home" is specious.

    Yeah, right.

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    I do not know what this person is doing or what they have told you they are doing, but what I do know is that he is not genetically engineering anything in his home lab.

    Well, you don’t have to explain further as I know what is involved with genetically engineering things. I do it for a living. You obviously missed that point.

    And as I have said before, it can be relatively easy to engineer bacteria with an exogenous gene in a properly equipped laboratory. It is not easy (probably impossible) to do so in a makeshift home lab without autoclaves, centrifuges, -80 freezers, -20 freezers, incubators, electrophoresis equipment, weighing balances, a large range of different chemicals, pipettes, pipette tips, tubes of all different sizes, pH meters, lab glassware, UV lamps, and much much more.

    Yes, as I said before, if you transplant all the equipment from a molecular biology lab into your home, then maybe you could do it in your “home”. But then it’s not your home any more, it’s a lab. So the statement that it can be done in the home is a load of cobblers.

    I don’t need a genetics history lesson, thank you. I am fully aware of these people and their work. They did not perform the sort of advanced genetic engineering you are referring to in their homes.

    And by the way, it’s Kary Mullis you’re thinking of.

    Fine. You let us all know when you have done better.
  17. Roman Banned Banned

    Heh. You make it sound like it's complicated or something. A plasmid lab wouldn't need that much specialized equipment. It wouldn't take up much more room than any other American hobby- you could put it in the garage or the den. It wouldn't be as good as a real lab, for sure, but it wouldn't cease to function because Hercules Rockefeller says it would.

    If you were brewing up all your own chemicals, they wouldn't take up much more space than what you keep under the kitchen sink and a cupboard. Salts & agarose don't take up much space, and aren't as hard to obtain as, say, radioactive material.

    Electrophoresis equipment isn't anything special- you need something to control voltage and a box to hold water & electrolytes in so you can run a current through it.

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    No space issue there.

    An incubator could be nothing more than an insulated box with a heat lamp & a thermometer. A heating pad could also be used for the incubator. People who raise reptiles or fowl use incubators; no reason you couldn't adapt one for molecular biology purposes.

    For cleaning, a UV lamp, bleach, and dH2O should be sufficient. You'll have higher rates of contamination, but that won't prevent you from doing any experiments at all.

    pH equipment is easy enough to come by, as are digital weighing balances. If my pusher can get one, there's no reason I couldn't either. You could go on eBay and get both for under 40 bucks.

    Tubes "of all different sizes", as well as chemistry equipment for making up chemicals, won't take up more space than the average families collection of dishes, and they won't be more expensive than the china. A good pipetteman would probably be the most expensive piece of equipment, but you only need two. Everything else could be done with cheaper equipment. You'd just lose a lot of time to having to wash stuff.
  18. Nasor Valued Senior Member

    I don't think most people appreciate how much mutation goes on all the time in the natural world anyway.
  19. Hercules Rockefeller Beatings will continue until morale improves. Moderator


    Yeah, yeah.

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    That’s a lot of “ifs” and “maybes”. A lot of things might be possible if you somehow manage to collect enough stuff. And you didn’t cover the whole list of equipment. And you need a much greater range of chemicals than merely “salts and agarose”. And I could go on and on.

    People may be trying but no one is successfully accomplishing feats like engineering yogurt bacteria to express GFP when certain chemicals are present in the yoghurt (as mentioned in the OP article.) It just isn’t happening in a makeshift home lab.
  20. CharonZ Registered Senior Member

    If we are talking about just transforming bacteria with a plasmid with pathogenicity islands I would say that with proper training it is quite feasible. The hard thing is to construct or get hands on such a plasmid.

    I would bet against an undergrad being in only a few mol bio classes, though. Also you would reequip your "garage" lab quite a bit. It surely would not be cheap and trying it with makeshift equipment is likely to be even more expensive than using proper equipment, due to the high failure rate. What is true is that you do not need that much space. But I hardly believe that Hercules was arguing that in the first place. And again, if you got the proper equipment and training it goes back to what Hercules was saying: it would be a proper lab by definition. Even trying something as simple as a transformation on your kitchen sink would require essentially on a heap of luck to function properly. Of course you could always sneeze on a plate and claim that it was proper enrichment of pathogens...
  21. Roman Banned Banned

    I disagree. I it would be perfectly feasible to have home lab that you put together. I think we're disagreeing on what a home lab counts as- you think I literally mean using the kitchen sink. I mean more like being able to set a small lab up for under US $5,000, in your house. The first PCRs were done with grad students moving the samples from one water bath to another, for instance. You can't get much more "kitchen sink" than a Southern blot.

    The most expensive component would be keeping things frozen. An ultracold (-80C) runs around $1,500 to $3,000, new. I couldn't find any used ones. A vapor shipper costs about $1,000, which stays cold for around a week. If you were to recharge them every week that you needed frozen stuff, it would be relatively cheap to get the liquid N2 (around $2/liter). Virtually all the reagents could be ordered online, plasmids included. As long as you stick to using old technology, many pieces of equipment can be made from other things- running a gel just needs a low current run through practically jello (microwave and let cool), ultraviolet sterilizers run in the hundreds of dollars, pipette tips aren't prohibitively expensive, nor would a couple pipettemen. Glassware is also not difficult to come by. Microcentrifuges run under $300.

    If a boy scout can build a nuclear reactor in his backyard, then it seems feasible that you can culture bacteria in your house. Let's not forget- competency has existed for a very long time, we just happen to take advantage of it.

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