Viewpoint: Do-it-yourself biotech movement an ‘unlikely biosecurity threat’

| June 18, 2018
DIY biotech
Image credit: Open BioMedical Initiative
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Contrary to alarmist headlines, the DIYbio movement is an unlikely biosecurity threat. The ‘do-it-yourself’ biology (DIYbio) community has had its share of sensationalist headlines exaggerating potential concerns and dangers associated with its work. The latest example came in a New York Times piece (“As D.I.Y. gene editing gains popularity, ‘someone is going to get hurt’,” May 18, 2018) that conflated work to construct a horsepox virus from synthetic DNA fragments (PLoS ONE 13, e0188453, 2018) with “sounding the alarm about genetic tinkering carried out in garages and living rooms.”

DIY bioterror also seems a long shot. If a rogue biohacker were to seek to create a pathogen from scratch using mail-order DNA fragments, for example, they would likely face a long, uphill struggle. Unlike David Evans’ group at the University of Alberta who made the synthetic horsepox, a DIYbio hobbyist is unlikely to convince DNA synthesis companies like GeneArt to ship DNA flagged with “homology to a known pathogen” to their home address.

Related article:  Debate heats up: Did National Academies of Science GMO report go far enough in affirming GMO safety consensus?

A final aspect that seems to have escaped The New York Times journalists is the strong ethical, open, and transparent culture of DIYbio groups (e.g., see and their proactive attitude to addressing biosafety and biosecurity concerns.

[I]t is disappointing that The New York Times sought to overhype [DIYbio’s] risks rather than explore the movement’s potential for low-resource innovation, public engagement, and education.

Read full, original post: DIYbio gets a poxy rap

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