bookreview

Biopunk: DIY Scientists Hack the Software of Life Review


BioPunk DIY Scientist Hack the Software of Life

Biopunk: DIY Scientists Hack the Software of Life by Marcus Wohlsen

This book is an interesting overview of the DIY BIO movement and a quick ~200 page read. Each chapter is a new topic/interview of some part of the DIY BIO movement and the author does a pretty good job balancing bias by showing the good it can do and the safety concerns it creates.

Interesting notes from the book:

  • Most of the DIY BIO projects are pretty basic, they have a hard enough time just keeping what they want alive, let alone accidentally creating the next macro virus.
  • A lot of the equipment they use is very primitive and basic because most lab equipment cost a lot of money and isn’t easy for just anyone to purchase.
  • But even purchasing used lab equipment can make you look suspicious, a DIY BIO and professor Steve Kurtz called 911 when his wife had a sudden heart attack and died. He was held in jail under the suspicion of bioterrorism and was kept from his home for a week.
  • Companies like 23andMe are facing legal issues because the FDA is now viewing their results like medical tests which have to comply with strict regulations which will surely increase cost. The FDA is afraid that people will see 23andMe results that say you are at a low risk for heart disease and will make poor lifestyle decisions that will in the end cause an increase in risk.
  • To read the entire 3 billion DNA pairs of a human costs roughly $10,000 in 2013. Services like 23andMe are just sequencing [reading] portions of the genome that they view as most important.
  • We are still very primitive by only using bacteria/virus to splice DNA and still can barely see what we are doing to confirm they did what we think they did.

This book won’t teach you much about the actual DIY BIO processes but can give you new terms to google and read more about.


I'm a 29 year old UIUC Computer Engineer building mobile apps, websites and hardware integrations with an interest in 3D printing, biotechnology and Arduinos.

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