h+ Magazine

Winter 2009.

Issue link: http://cp.revolio.com/i/5039

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Page 45 of 89

46 winter 2009 a movement is growing quietly, steadily, and with great speed. In basements, attics, garages, and living rooms, amateurs and professionals alike are moving steadily towards disparate though unified goals. They come home from work or school and transform into biologists: do-it- yourself biologists, to be exact. DIybiology ("DIybio") is a homegrown synthesis of software, hardware, and wetware. In the tradition of homebrew computing and in the spirit of the Make space (best typified by o'Reilly's Make Magazine), these DIyers hack much more than software and electronics. These biohackers build their own laboratory equipment, write their own code (computer and genetic) and design their own biological systems. They engineer tissue, purify proteins, extract nucleic acids and alter the genome itself. Whereas typical laboratory experiments can run from tens-of-thousands to millions of dollars, many DIyers knowledge of these fields is so complete that the best among them design and conduct their own experiments at stunningly low costs. With adequate knowledge and ingenuity, DIybiologists can build equipment and run experiments on a hobbyist's budget. as the movement evolves, cooperatives are also springing up where hobbyists are pooling resources and creating "hacker spaces" and clubs to further reduce costs, share knowledge and boost morale. This movement, still embryonic, could become a monster — a proper rival to industry, government, and academic labs. The expertise needed to make serious breakthroughs on a regular basis at home hasn't yet reached a critical mass, but there are good reasons to believe that this day will soon come. DIYbio software has been around for a long time. Folding@home, which came out of Professor vinjay Pande's group at Stanford Chemistry Department in 2000, is designed to perform computationally intensive simulations of protein folding and other molecular dynamics. FAH, as it's known, is now considered the most powerful distributed computing cluster in the world. Open source software for bioinformatics, computational neuroscience, and computational biology is plentiful and continues to grow. On their own time, students, professors, entrepreneurs, and curious amateurs contribute to open source work that captures their interests. BioPerl and BioPython have hundreds of contributors and tens of thousands of users. Programs like GENESIS and NEuRON have been downloaded by computational neuroscientists for over twenty years. The software part is easy. The FOSS/OSS machine is well established, and has been successful for a long time. As the shift to open source software continues, computational biology will become even more accessible, and even more powerful. (Red Hat has recently asked the uS Supreme Court to bar all software patents, submitting an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in the "Bilski case." See Resources.) SoFTWaRe A GrowinG MoveMent tAkes on AGinG PARIJATA MACKEY So many seeking, Around lampposts of today, Change is on the wind. — Unknown

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