Is "biohacking" citizen-science or is it a threat to public health and/or national security?
"In the past few years, so-called biohackers across the country have taken gene editing into their own hands. As the equipment becomes cheaper and the expertise in gene-editing techniques, mostly Crispr-Cas9, more widely shared, citizen-scientists are attempting to re-engineer DNA in surprising ways. ... The most pressing worry is that someone somewhere will use the spreading technology to create a bioweapon. Already a research team at the University of Alberta has recreated from scratch an extinct relative of smallpox, horsepox, by stitching together fragments of mail-order DNA in just six months for about $100,000 — without a glance from law enforcement officials. The team purchased overlapping DNA fragments from a commercial company. Once the researchers glued the full genome together and introduced it into cells infected by another type of poxvirus, the cells began to produce infectious particles. ... A site called Science Exchange, for example, serves as a Craigslist for DNA, a commercial ecosystem connecting almost anyone with online access and a valid credit card to companies that sell cloned DNA fragments. ... Biohackers will soon be able to forgo these companies altogether with an all-in-one desktop genome printer: a device much like an inkjet printer that employs the letters AGTC — genetic base pairs — instead of the color model CMYK. A similar device already exists for institutional labs, called BioXp 3200, which sells for about $65,000. But at-home biohackers can start with DNA Playground from Amino Labs, an Easy Bake genetic oven that costs less than an iPad, or The Odin’s Crispr gene-editing kit for $159. ... 'There are really only two things that could wipe 30 million people off of the planet: a nuclear weapon, or a biological one,' said Lawrence O. Gostin, an adviser on pandemic influenza preparedness to the World Health Organization. 'Somehow, the U.S. government fears and prepares for the former, but not remotely for the latter. It baffles me.'"
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