Thursday, October 16, 2014

DIYbio



Radar O'Reilly Whither 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.”
On the other hand, it’s probably too much to expect kitchen counter fermenting vessels stocked with customized microorganisms exuding insulin, biodiesel, and can’t-believe-it-tastes-like-butter spreadable lipids.
“But I can see that kind of technology scaled up to the municipal level,” says Medvedik. “Large fermenter arrays could provide fuels, medicines, fiber — anything carbon-based. Not every city can afford or would want a petroleum refinery to supply its fuel and chemical needs. They’re expensive and dirty. But fermenting vessels are quiet, clean, versatile, and ultimately, cheaper.