Biopunk: Solving Biotech's Biggest Problems in Kitchens and Garages

Biopunk: Solving Biotech's Biggest Problems in Kitchens and Garages

by Marcus Wohlsen
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Biopunk: Solving Biotech's Biggest Problems in Kitchens and Garages by Marcus Wohlsen

Bill Gates recently told Wired that if he were a teenager today, he would be hacking biology. "If you want to change the world in some big way," he says, "that's where you should start-biological molecules."

The most disruptive force on the planet resides in DNA. Biotech companies and academic researchers are just beginning to unlock the potential of piecing together life from scratch. Champions of synthetic biology believe that turning genetic code into Lego-like blocks to build never-before-seen organisms could solve the thorniest challenges in medicine, energy, and environmental protection. But as the hackers who cracked open the potential of the personal computer and the Internet proved, the most revolutionary discoveries often emerge from out-of-the-way places, forged by brilliant outsiders with few resources besides boundless energy and great ideas.

In Biopunk, Marcus Wohlsen chronicles a growing community of DIY scientists working outside the walls of corporations and universities who are committed to democratizing DNA the way the Internet did information. The "biohacking" movement, now in its early, heady days, aims to unleash an outbreak of genetically modified innovation by making the tools and techniques of biotechnology accessible to everyone. Borrowing their idealism from the worlds of open-source software, artisinal food, Internet startups, and the Peace Corps, biopunks are devoted advocates for open-sourcing the basic code of life. They believe in the power of individuals with access to DNA to solve the world's biggest problems.

You'll meet a new breed of hackers who aren't afraid to get their hands wet, from entrepreneurs who aim to bring DNA-based medical tools to the poorest of the poor to a curious tinkerer who believes a tub of yogurt and a jellyfish gene could protect the world's food supply. These biohackers include:

-A duo who started a cancer drug company in their kitchen
-A team who built an open-source DNA copy machine
-A woman who developed a genetic test in her apartment for a deadly disease that had stricken her family

Along with the potential of citizen science to bring about disruptive change, Wohlsen explores the risks of DIY bioterrorism, the possibility of genetic engineering experiments gone awry, and whether the ability to design life from scratch on a laptop might come sooner than we think.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101476352
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/14/2011
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 229,528
File size: 445 KB
Age Range: 18 Years

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Biopunk: DIY Scientists Hack the Software of Life 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
lit-in-the-last-frontier More than 1 year ago
BIOPUNK by Marcus Wohlsen ???1/2 (round up to ????) This book definitely has an interesting premise in its theme of do-it-yourself biohackers championing open-sourcing of intellectual property in an effort to pool research regarding DNA. Don't let the science scare you; author Marcus Wohlsen makes biology and the blueprint of life very accessible. In essence, this work deals with young, bright individuals who set up biology wet labs in their garages and kitchens and attempt to do for DNA what Bill Gates and Steve Jobs did for computers. They are driven by the belief that free access to one another's findings, as opposed to the strict confidentiality of the major biotech companies, will lead to major discoveries and medical cures. A pooling of intellectual resources, so to speak. My first thought was concern that while this group is earnestly seeking cures and diagnostic avenues, there is bound to be another group bent on using the same technology with the opposite in mind. While the ethical argument is raised, Wohlsen does not spend any ink on how real and present that threat is-information which I would have appreciated in this age of global terrorism. A number of interesting people are introduced who are involved in various forms of research and who have a variety of world views. While some have smaller, more attainable goals in mind, such as finding a less expensive early detection test for which insurance companies might be more willing to pay. Others see the end goal as being able to engineer life itself. Within the narrow scope of those choosing to use their kitchen sink research for what most would view as positive goals, Wohlsen's research is impressive. As I said, the flip side-those who are intent on evil-is not covered at all. However, the book could use a good editor to help with organization (mine was a pre-editing galley, so that issue might well be ironed out) and the ending was rambling with odd, inconsequential references to punk music. Ranking: I would give this book four stars for the excellent job it does presenting the good side of bio hacking, but I really felt that the opposite side needed to be told as well to lend balance to the ethical questions. So... ???? I will round to four stars in those venues which do not allow for 1/2 star rankings, but my true rating is ???1/2 stars for lack of balance. I am assuming the organizational issues and ending were worked out in the editing phase.
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