ENTRIES TAGGED "dna"

Synthetic biology on the cusp

Oliver Medvedik on the grassroots future of biohacking and the problems with government overreach.

BioCoder image plants in dish with tweezersWhither thou goest, synthetic biology? First, let’s put aside the dystopian scenarios of nasty modified viruses escaping from the fermentor Junior has jury-rigged in his bedroom lab. Designing virulent microbes is well beyond the expertise and budgets of homegrown biocoders.

“Moreover, it’s extremely difficult to ‘improve’ on the lethality of nature,” says Oliver Medvedik, a visiting assistant professor at The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art and the assistant director of the Maurice Kanbar Center for Biomedical Engineering. “The pathogens that already exist are more legitimate cause for worry.” Read more…

Comment: 1

Biohacking: The next great wave of innovation

The hacker culture that launched the computing revolution is now taking root in the bio space.

Genspace and Biocurious logosI’ve been following synthetic biology for the past year or so, and we’re about to see some big changes. Synthetic bio seems to be now where the computer industry was in the late 1970s: still nascent, but about to explode. The hacker culture that drove the development of the personal computer, and that continues to drive technical progress, is forming anew among biohackers.

Computers certainly existed in the ’60s and ’70s, but they were rare, and operated by “professionals” rather than enthusiasts. But an important change took place in the mid-’70s: computing became the domain of amateurs and hobbyists. I read recently that the personal computer revolution started when Steve Wozniak built his own computer in 1975. That’s not quite true, though. Woz was certainly a key player, but he was also part of a club. More important, Silicon Valley’s Homebrew Computer Club wasn’t the only one. At roughly the same time, a friend of mine was building his own computer in a dorm room. And hundreds of people, scattered throughout the U.S. and the rest of the world, were doing the same thing. The revolution wasn’t the result of one person: it was the result of many, all moving in the same direction.

Biohacking has the same kind of momentum. It is breaking out of the confines of academia and research laboratories. There are two significant biohacking hackerspaces in the U.S., GenSpace in New York and BioCurious in California, and more are getting started. Making glowing bacteria (the biological equivalent of “Hello, World!”) is on the curriculum in high school AP bio classes. iGem is an annual competition to build “biological robots.” A grassroots biohacking community is developing, much as it did in computing. That community is transforming biology from a purely professional activity, requiring lab coats, expensive equipment, and other accoutrements, to something that hobbyists and artists can do.

As part of this transformation, the community is navigating the transition from extremely low-level tools to higher-level constructs that are easier to work with. When I first leaned to program on a PDP-8, you had to start the computer by loading a sequence of 13 binary numbers through switches on the front panel. Early microcomputers weren’t much better, but by the time of the first Apples, things had changed. DNA is similar to machine language (except it’s in base four, rather than binary), and in principle hacking DNA isn’t much different from hacking machine code. But synthetic biologists are currently working on the notion of “standard biological parts,” or genetic sequences that enable a cell to perform certain standardized tasks. Standardized parts will give practitioners the ability to work in a “higher level language.” In short, synthetic biology is going through the same transition in usability that computing saw in the ’70s and ’80s. Read more…

Comments: 9
Four short links: 31 May 2012

Four short links: 31 May 2012

Internet Trends, LLVM Guts, DNA Font, and Self Control

  1. Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends 2012 (PDF) — what caught my eye: a Japanese games company with USD418 ARPU via in-game currency sales; she has a fantastic array of “technology has changed everything” slides topped by a sharp “and that’s just the beginning” slide; she’s bearish on US and global economies.
  2. The Design of LLVM (Dr Dobbs) — nifty technical introduction to an amazing but under-praised piece of technology. (via Hacker News)
  3. DNA Sans — writing 100nm tall, in DNA. There’s even a font sample. This is so cool. (via Ed Yong)
  4. New Digital Divide = Wasting Time Online (NY Times) — “Despite the educational potential of computers, the reality is that their use for education or meaningful content creation is minuscule compared to their use for pure entertainment,” said Vicky Rideout, author of the decade-long Kaiser study. “Instead of closing the achievement gap, they’re widening the time-wasting gap.” Self-control and internal discipline is just as important in kids as adults: success in school and in life only comes with the ability to say “no” to Facebook, porn sites, endless IM, and all the other distractions that the Internet offers.
Comment
Four short links: 24 May 2010

Four short links: 24 May 2010

Google Docs APIs, Wikileaks Founder Profile, DNA Hacking, and Abusing the Numbers

  1. Appscale — open source implementation of Google App engine’s APIs built on top of Amazon’s APIs, from UCSB. You can deploy on Amazon or on any Amazon API-compliant cloud such as Eucalyptus.
  2. Information Pioneers — the Chartered Institute for IT has a pile of video clips about famous IT pioneers (Lovelace, Turing, Lamarr, Berners-Lee, etc.).
  3. This Week in Law — podcast from Denise Howell, covering IT law and policy. E.g., this week’s episode covers “Google Books, Elena Kagen, owning virtual land, double-dipping game developers, Facebook tips, forced follow bug and fragile egos, embedding tweets, Star Trek Universe liability, and more.”
  4. <a href="
Comment: 1
Ignite Show: Dr. Jayson Falkner on DNA Science, It Works!

Ignite Show: Dr. Jayson Falkner on DNA Science, It Works!

At Ignite Portland #5, Dr. Jayson Falkner explained the latest in DNA Science, how its effected human evolution and what it’s doing to our society. We’ve cleaned it up and put it into Episode 6 of the Ignite Show. The title is a tribute to the classic XKCD cartoon “Science! It Works….”. The Ignite Show will feature a different speaker every Tuesday for free.

Comments Off