The self-policing of DIY Biology communities

Is it a good idea, though, to encourage “freelance” researchers to experiment with DNA, however well-intentioned they may be?

This particular issue is examined in an article by the New Scientist, which warns:

“someone might intentionally synthesise or recreate deadly pathogens like the 1918 flu strain, which killed an estimated 40 million people worldwide. “That is on the edge of being within the technical capabilities of someone working outside the laboratory environment.”

However, it seems that the DIY Biology movement, or ‘garage genome hackers‘ as they are called in the article, are aware of the issue and have imposed a number of limitations on their activities.

Here are the details:

In response to such fears and in anticipation of calls for the group to be shut down, DIYbio has begun policing itself. Cowell says there is now “a self-imposed moratorium on ‘wetwork'”, or all synthetic biology experiments, until researchers can show that what they are doing is safe. For the moment, the group is focusing on DNA fingerprinting projects, with the analysis carried out by commercial labs, rather than manipulating genetic information themselves.

Church argues that licensing and monitoring would-be DIY biologists is better than alienating them. “It’s going to happen anyway; you can make it go underground or you can try to shape it,” he says.

Church has agreed to act as an adviser to DIYbio, which will give the group greater academic oversight and could allow it to resume experimental work with less fear of being shut down.

As for Aull, she is coming out of the closet with plans to help DIYbio set up protocols for safe lab practices.”

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