Away In a Test Tube

Not to ruin anyone’s Christmas, but this story bothers me on several levels. It seems that some ardent amateur scientists have decided that breeding new creations in their homes is a really great idea.

SAN FRANCISCO — The Apple computer was invented in a garage. Same with the Google search engine. Now, tinkerers are working at home with the basic building blocks of life itself.

Using homemade lab equipment and the wealth of scientific knowledge available online, these hobbyists are trying to create new life forms through genetic engineering — a field long dominated by Ph.D.s toiling in university and corporate laboratories……

…..Jim Thomas of ETC Group, a biotechnology watchdog organization, warned that synthetic organisms in the hands of amateurs could escape and cause outbreaks of incurable diseases or unpredictable environmental damage.

“Once you move to people working in their garage or other informal location, there’s no safety process in place,” he said.

That, in a nutshell, is the problem. These folks working in their dining rooms or garages have no containment, no safety procedures, no way to stop a release of something unfortunate – or really, really bad – as a result of their experiments. They have little or no actual scientific training and most will have no actual ability at what they are attempting. Most of these folks are, frankly, merely dilettantes who will accomplish nothing other than to stink up their garages or dining rooms and will soon lose interest and move on to their next hobby.

But there is a real possibility that someone, having just enough knowledge gleaned from the interwebby to be dangerous, will make a mistake. The ethical implications of all this are a whole other discussion.

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5 Responses to Away In a Test Tube

  1. Now we can have new beginnings for “I Am Legend” “Earth Abides” and “The Stand”.

  2. Even if we were able to control this in the civilized parts of the world, there are too many places “beyond the pale” where this kind of modern-day Frankensteinism could go on and then wreak havoc.

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  4. Bob Sykes says:

    When this tech starting showing up in the bio labs a decade or so ago, it was immediately obvious that it was kitchen sink level and accessible to anyone. Some of the chemicals are seriously toxic, but that is not a problem to people with some chemistry and microbiology experience. Bomb makers have bigger problems. Whether someone can resynthesise smallpox or the 1918 flu remains to be seen. More likely, a new pathogen will be created, but the odds are against it being anything more serious than the common cold. Of course, there are “Black Swans.”

  5. Bob,
    Right theorist but wrong example. The Taleb Distribution makes more sense then the Black Swan Theory. Kitchen sink genengineering has an exceedingly high probability of nothing good, that is valuable, coming from it however it has a small probability of extraordinary loss.

    So in actuality the value of the research is less then zero since the gains cannot possibly exceed the potential for loss.

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