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Surprising Science

Biopunk: D.I.Y. Biotechnology

Inspired by the likes of Apple and Google, which were created in home garages, biotechnology hobbyists and hackers are asking tough questions and changing how science is done. 

What’s the Latest Development?

Better and cheaper technology has inspired a new movement in garage-based biotechnology. Author Marcus Wohlsen has surveyed the rising biohacker movement and written his results in a new book: Biopunk. Among his finds are an M.I.T. student building a genetic testing kit in her closet and a woman working to decentralizing how milk is tested for poisons like melamine. Like their open-source forefathers, biohackers and hobbyists believe in the power of individuals as opposed to corporate interests.

What’s the Big Idea?

“What is the value of expertise relative to the wisdom of crowds? Do intellectual property laws further or slow scientific progress? Should access to information about our own bodies be held as a basic human right? How much regulatory oversight is warranted when it comes to tinkering with life? And, ultimately, should just anyone be able to do science?” These are the challenging questions posed by biotechnology hackers and hobbyists. Just as Apple and Google got their start in California garages, perhaps the next big advance in biotechnology will come from the most humble of workshops.


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