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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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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Researchers discover a gene that might control fat accumulation

Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center have found that a single gene might control whether or not individuals tend to pile on fat, a discovery that may point to new ways to fight obesity and diabetes.

“From worms to mammals, this gene controls fat formation,” said Dr. Jonathan Graff, associate professor of developmental biology and internal medicine at UT Southwestern and senior author of a study appearing in the Sept. 5 issue of Cell Metabolism. “It could explain why so many people struggle to lose weight and suggests an entirely new direction for developing medical treatments that address the current epidemic of diabetes and obesity.

“People who want to fit in their jeans might someday be able to overcome their genes.”
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Scientists turn mouse into factory for human liver cells

Oregon Health & Science University researchers have figured out how to turn a mouse into a factory for human liver cells that can be used to test how pharmaceuticals are metabolized.

The technique, published in the journal Nature Biotechnology, could soon become the gold standard not only for examining drug metabolism in the liver, which helps scientists determine a drug’s toxicity. But it also can be used as a platform for testing new therapies against infectious diseases that attack the liver, such as hepatitis C and malaria.

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Bioengineers Devise ‘Dimmer Swith’ To Regulate Gene Expression In Mammal Cells

Three Boston University biomedical engineers have created a genetic dimmer switch that can be used to turn on, shut off, or partially activate a gene’s function. Professor James Collins, Professor Charles Cantor and doctoral candidate Tara Deans invented the switch, which can be tuned to produce large or small quantities of protein, or none at all

This switch helps advance the field of synthetic biology, which rests on the premise that complex biological systems can be built by arranging components or standard parts, as an electrician would to build an electric light switch. Much work in the field to date uses bacteria or yeast, but the Boston University team used more complex mammalian cells, from hamsters and mice. The switch has several new design features that extend possible applications into areas from basic research to gene therapy.

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Mutating the entire genome

Genes account for only 2.5 percent of DNA in the human genetic blueprint, yet diseases can result not only from mutant genes, but from mutations of other DNA that controls genes. University of Utah researchers report in the journal Nature Genetics that they have developed a faster, less expensive technique for mutating those large, non-gene stretches of DNA.

 

 

 

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