h+ Magazine

Winter 2009.

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

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Page 48 of 89

49 www.hplusmagazine.com This is a mere glimpse into the vast undertaking that is DIYbio. Most DIYers work independently on projects that have significant personal meaning. Tyson Anderson, a specialist in the uS Army, was struck by the lack of technological infrastructure during his time in Afghanistan. Anderson, a transhumanist as well as a DIYbiologist, was trying to discuss the implications of the Singularity with the friends he had made there. He realized it was difficult to conceive of a technological paradise in a world with limited electricity. He looked to DIYbio to make a difference, and is now engineering bioluminescent yeast to construct sugar-powered lamps for his friends in Afghanistan. Because there is much overlap between the DIYbio and transhumanist communities, it's not surprising that many emerging projects focus on both. DIY-SENS is only the tip of the iceberg. DIYh+ is a fusion of DIYbio and H+, coordinating projects that allow willing individuals to experiment with practical human enhancement. Example projects include supplement/ exercise regimens, DIY-tDCS, DIY-EEG, and the personal harvesting of stem cells. From the group description: "This group is a friendly cross between DIYbio and Open Source Medicine, with a dash of the ImmInst (Immortality Institute) forums [see Resources]. It's the slightly edgier half of OSM. The community, ideally, should strive to foster an open and safe way for responsible adults to learn about do-it-yourself human enhancement. We do not believe in limiting the use of medical technology to therapy." It's not just enhancement technology that can benefit from DIYbiology. As the popular distrust of doctors grows, people will want to understand and monitor their own body. likewise, as personalized medicine becomes a reality, we will probably see a rise in the number of hobbyists who treat their own bodies as machines to be worked on — like a radio or a car — branching out from personalized genomics to things like DIY stem cell extraction and manipulation, DIY prosthetics, DIY neural prosthetics and sensory enhancements (infrared vision, anyone?), immune system testing, and general tweaking of whatever system strikes the hobbyist's fancy. This hacker's paradise has not yet come to pass, but it is, perhaps, our exciting future. The road to true DIYbiology will not be easy. It's not a magic bullet. It will probably not produce the next Bill Gates, at least not for a long time. Biology is hard, messy, and failure is more common than success. The knowledge required takes time and effort to acquire, and even then, so- called textbook knowledge is being revised almost daily. Many are attracted by the glamour of it all. They're drawn to the romance of being a wetware hacker — the existential thrill of tweaking life itself. They tend to become quickly disappointed by the slow, tedious, difficult path they face. Hobbyist biology is still in its infancy, and it will take a great deal of work before it reaches its potential. Few are more skeptical than DIYbiologists themselves. But many see no choice. Squabbles over sponsorship, intellectual property, and cumbersome regulations often prevent progress along more conventional lines. An anonymous DIYbiologist puts it this way: "universities charge far more than the experiments really cost, and bureaucratic rules constantly retard real progress." Questions of IP and ownership can hamstring innovation in industry, while concerns for national security prevent real information sharing in government science. large, unwieldy bureaucracies and regulatory agencies find it difficult to keep pace with the breakneck speed of technological progress. Thought- monopolies make it unwise to promote new ideas while waiting for tenure, despite the fact that many central dogmas of biology change. Individuals willing to intelligently circumvent convention may find themselves stumbling into uncharted areas of biology where they may make new discoveries. Indeed, it is only in the last century that biology has become an unreachable part of the academic-corporate-government machine. History's naturalists, from Darwin to Mendel, are the true fathers of DIYbiology. They shared the spirit of discovery and scientific ingenuity and the drive to "figure it out yourself." No one told Isaac Newton to discover the laws of classical mechanics, and you can bet he was never given calculus homework. Einstein's life would have been respectable if he hadn't spent a silent decade questioning the nature of spacetime. They were driven by the simple need to know, and they would not be stopped by the incidental truth that no one had figured it out before. DIYbiology is perhaps a reemergence of this basic curiosity, applied to the study of life. As technological advances, let us study the workings of the cell the same way Newton may have studied the effects of gravity. Who wouldn't want to know? Who can resist a peek at the mechanisms of our own existence? DIYbio may be young, but it is a symptom of our species' unbreakable curiosity. We will know these secrets too, someday. "For me, chemistry represented an indefinite cloud of future potentialities which enveloped my life to come in black volutes torn by fiery flashes, like those which had hidden Mount Sinai. Like Moses, from that cloud I expected my law, the principle of order in me, around me, and in the world. I would watch the buds swell in spring, the mica glint in the granite, my own hands, and I would say to myself: I will understand this, too, I will understand everything." —Primo Levi Without a lab supervisor to guide them, DIYbiologists must take a carefully disciplined (and perhaps more genuine) approach to science. DIYbio has the potential to revive a noble tradition of pure scientific curiosity, with a modern, engineering twist. If you want to get something done, some day it really will be possible to do it yourself. Parijata Mackey is the Chief Science Officer of Humanity + and a senior at the University of Chicago, interested in applying synthetic biology, stem cell therapies, computational neuroscience, and DIYbio to life-extension and increased healthspan. SKDB http://adl.serveftp.org/skdb/ Smart lab http://projectsmartlab.org/ DIYh+ http://groups.google.com/group/diytranshumanist?pli=1 ImmInst Forum http://www.imminst.org/forum/ BioPerl http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BioPerl BioPython http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BioPython GENESIS: GEneral NEural SImulation System http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GENESIS_%28software%29

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