Can Hobbyists and Hackers Transform Biotechnology?

For most of us, managing our health means visiting a doctor. The more serious our concerns, the more specialized a medical expert we seek. Our bodies often feel like foreign and frightening lands, and we are happy to let someone with an MD serve as our tour guide. For most of us, our own DNA never makes it onto our personal reading list.

Biohackers are on a mission to change all that. These do-it-yourself biology hobbyists want to bring biotechnology out of institutional labs and into our homes. Following in the footsteps of revolutionaries like Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, who built the first Apple computer in Jobs’s garage, and Sergey Brin and Larry Page, who invented Google in a friend’s garage, biohackers are attempting bold feats of genetic engineering, drug development, and biotech research in makeshift home laboratories.

In Biopunk, journalist Marcus Wohlsen surveys the rising tide of the biohacker movement, which has been made possible by a convergence of better and cheaper technologies. For a few hundred dollars, anyone can send some spit to a sequencing company and receive a complete DNA scan, and then use free software to analyze the results. Custom-made DNA can be mail-ordered off websites, and affordable biotech gear is available on Craigslist and eBay.

via Can Hobbyists and Hackers Transform Biotechnology? – Technology Review.

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Scientists create ‘designer enzymes’

Chemists from UCLA and the University of Washington have succeeded in creating “designer enzymes,” a major milestone in computational chemistry and protein engineering.

Designer enzymes will have applications for defense against biological warfare, by deactivating pathogenic biological agents, and for creating more effective medications.

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Craig Venter: On the verge of creating synthetic life

Can we create new life out of our digital universe?” asks Craig Venter. And his answer is, yes, and pretty soon. He walks the TED2008 audience through his latest research into “fourth-generation fuels” — biologically created fuels with CO2 as their feedstock. His talk covers the details of creating brand-new chromosomes using digital technology, the reasons why we would want to do this, and the bioethics of synthetic life. A fascinating Q&A with TED’s Chris Anderson follows .  

Newly Engineered Genetic Switches Enhance Production Of Proteins, Pharmaceuticals

Bacteria have evolved complex mechanisms called quorum sensing systems that provide for cell-to-cell communication, an adaptation that allows them to wait until their population grows large enough before mounting an attack on a host or competing for nutrients. Lianhong Sun, a chemical engineer at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, has engineered one of these systems to create genetic switches that could lower the cost of producing therapeutic proteins and pharmaceuticals.
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Scientists Create the First Synthetic Bacterial Genome

A team of 17 researchers at the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) has created the largest man-made DNA structure by synthesizing and assembling the 582,970 base pair genome of a bacterium, Mycoplasma genitalium JCVI-1.0. This work, published online today in the journal Science by Dan Gibson, Ph.D., et al, is the second of three key steps toward the team’s goal of creating a fully synthetic organism. In the next step, which is ongoing at the JCVI, the team will attempt to create a living bacterial cell based entirely on the synthetically made genome.
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Programming Biomolecular Self-Assembly Pathways

Nature knows how to make proteins and nucleic acids (DNA and RNA) dance to assemble and sustain life. Inspired by this proof of principle, researchers at the California Institute of Technology have demonstrated that it is possible to program the pathways by which DNA strands self-assemble and disassemble, and hence to control the dynamic function of the molecules as they traverse these pathways.

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Biohacking and programming DNA

Biological engineering does not have to be confined to the laboratories of high-end industry laboratories. Rather, it is desirable to foster a more open culture of biological technology. This talk is an effort to do so; it aims to equip you with basic practical knowledge of biological engineering.