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Customer Review

9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tremendous Introduction, April 15, 2011
This review is from: Biopunk: DIY Scientists Hack the Software of Life (Hardcover)
A tremendous introduction to one of the most exciting branches of individual superempowerment emerging today. The book is structured around the key figures in this movement today, and tells their stories quite well. It's not an exhaustive academic tome and doesn't try to be (appropriately so). I started out pretty familiar with this subject matter (having done much of the same research myself, including interacting with some of the people in the book), but learned a few things and `met' some very interesting people along the way.

Marcus Wohlsen does a great job laying out the contours of the movement. You get the culture, the philosophy they build on, the historical backing for their work, where they currently stand (without some major leaps, there's not a big chance of anyone solving cancer in their home wetlab) and where they're possibly headed. He also addresses the security threat (of course there is one, but the problem is social deviants, not these DIY garage hackers of living things).

Overall, it becomes clear that the most interesting times for biopunk are ahead. They're limited by a lack of cheap toolkits, good enough processes, funding, and knowledge. As they accomplish more over the coming years, they're going to have to deal with regulation and taking things to market. It's an interesting frontier and Wohlsen does this justice.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Mar 28, 2012, 6:03:05 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 28, 2012, 6:05:10 AM PDT
Nils Gilman says:
I liked the book as well (I even make an unnamed cameo in it) but I felt like when it came to addressing the security themes, he actually missed the boat. The real threat is not that some superbug is going to get invented from scratch -- that's a strawman. Rather, the threat is that the tools and equipment used to do DIYbio work and synthetic biology can (and I'd say will) also be used by deviant entrepreneurs to create not wholly new pathogens, but perfectly ordinary (and perfectly deadly) existing pathogens.

Specifically, I would have liked to hear a lot more about what the implications of "desktop" (DIY) gene synthesis. Already you can download the genome for smallpox off the tubes. What happens when anyone can start building proteins at home? E.g., what could possibly go wrong with this: http://www.cambridgeelevator.com/NewsDetail.aspx?news=15
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Shlok Vaidya
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Location: Austin, TX

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