I learned of a newly popular hobby for the masses thanks to a recent edition of Food Chain Radio podcast: amateur gene tinkerers. It’s such an obvious plot for a Michael Crichton book, featuring an innocent experiment wiping the planet’s motherboard. Why let corporations and academics in their ivory towers have all the fun? Just join DIYbio and you can access all the info and encouragement you need to extract DNA and poke it WHERE IT DOESN’T BLOODY WELL BELONG without the hassle of safety protocols (why destroy novel organisms in an autoclave when you can just flush them down the toilet and let the river sort ’em out?).
While I appreciated the heads-up on what seems on the surface to be an almost entirely bad idea, I was bewildered that the show’s guest list featured only DIY fans: the high school biology-trained coordinator of DIYbio, a fellow tinkerer, and a woman from a gene science company that didn’t quibble at all with the idea of creating GMO yogurt in the kitchen. All she wanted to say is ‘let’s try to be safer about it.’
Michael, where was the person from the Nature Institute or Center for Food Safety to give your listeners a little more context as to why Nintendo or crochet might be a safer outlet for these folks? Or hey, if they’re that stoked about biology, how about other citizen science hobbies like birdwatching or wildlife tracking, two low tech and rewarding activities that add to humanity’s understanding of the world with the fringe benefits of fresh air and use of cheap, low tech, non-disaster-prone tools.