Wednesday, February 22, 2006

 

DIY Biowar... Made Easy!

I'm really starting to get on this Army Of Davids bandwagon, as I'm seeing more signs every day that we're poised to use technology to make some sort of quantum leap into individualism. The whole concept of "fab labs" is closer than I had previously realized, as rapid prototyping machines and CNC equipment isn't far away from being as affordable as a KitchenAid mixer (or, simply hit emachineshop.com and save yourself the mess). Countertop plastic-injection machines probably aren't far off, and there's a few injection-molding proto shops that are popping up and promising 48-hour turnarounds for simple parts. Oberon and I spent some time last weekend discussing electronics and just how much power that a moderately-educated electrical engineer (or hobbyist) has available at his or her fingertips. Then of course there's the "new media", which I think has not yet really flexed its muscles.

But of course this has a downside; frankly, I had no idea that mail-order and DIY DNA sequencing was so easy:

Eventually, we fumble our way to a plastic dish full of translucent goop. If I’d been working on smallpox—and really committed to my cause—this would have been the part where I’d inject a lab animal with the stuff to see if it got sick. Then I’d give myself a dose and head off on a days-long, multi-airport, transnational suicide run. But it was just yeast. Set on top of a black light, it glowed an eerie bright blue, like a Jimi Hendrix poster. My creation ... lived.

[SNIP]

DNA synthesis is following a kind of accelerated Moore’s law—the faster and easier it gets, the faster and easier it gets. Last year, a group of researchers synthesized DNA strands of more than 300,000 base pairs—longer than the smallpox genome—using a method that eliminates most of the shake-and-bake lab steps I’d spent weeks learning.

Now, let's keep in mind the timeframe revealed in that last sentence - weeks, not months, not years. And this is for someone who had no lab training.

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