24C3 Hacking DNA

[Drew Endy]’s Programming DNA talk was by far the most interesting talk we saw at Chaos Communication Congress. No, DNA doesn’t have much to do with computers, but he points out that hacking principles can be applied just the same. Right now engineers are reversing genetic code and compiling building blocks for creating completely arbitrary organisms. This talk was designed to bootstrap the hacking community so that we can start using and contributing standard biological parts to an open source collection of genetic functions.

You should definitely watch the video to get a good idea of where biohacking is at today. You can find a higher quality version of the video in the archives.

28 thoughts on “24C3 Hacking DNA

  1. if i’m honest, before i watched this i was ready to comment on how absurd messing with nature seems to me (yes…yes i am a big hippy)
    but that was incredibly interesting, if hobbyists and hackers could get into this just think what amazing stuff could be done with the collective intelligence of a community.

    also, imagine the staisfaction of dropping trou (pants?) infront of mr gates and screaming “yes mr gates!!!!! inhale the minty goodness of my open source trump!!!”

  2. too bad some corporations are gonna get patents on everything, just like hybrid crops, and sue everyone’s pants off (pun?) because your infringing on their dna rights. then they own the rights to your dna or something….

    i would warn against human alterations in dna and it would make me feel terrible to mess up sentient beings and torture them, but we already now that we can manipulate dna for good (hypoalergenic cats.. and useless glow in the dark cats) and i think that we should use this to make some kind of, non sentient organ producing specimens to make people stem cells and new organs and new limbs and type O- blood and etc. it could usher in a new era of health care, as long as its not some greedy bastard that does it for a tremendous profit.

  3. i guess if people (like the guy doing the talk) can get onto this and try and figure out methods for regulating/controlling patents (read: stop money grabbing profitering b**tards from exploiting it, and learn from past mistakes) and apply “open source” ethics to it, it really could be a masive step forward in so many directions. thats just my ever-so-uneducated opinion.

    also, does anybody know if its possible to get that copy of make magazine that was shown in the uk? or anywhere to get the info for the homemade stuff he showed………*eyes up house plants*……mwhahahahaha.

  4. This was a great talk. It will most likely influenced the way I think about hacking from now on. This topic of DNA hacking has been in the back of my mind for sometime now. I never knew how advanced the technology for DNA construction has become. This talk gives my the feeling that DNA will be the next defining age in human history. It scares me to think that all the “evil factors” are already involved and in place. Those being government control and private ownership. I hope that I can adapt to this biological medium. I would like to see more BIO hacks in the future of Hack a day.

  5. there’s a lot to be said for a pioneer in a field like bio-hacking. personally, i think it’s a very cool innovation. definately something i could sink some time into.

    There was a book about neuro-linguistic hacking published some years back that really grabbed me. I disremember what it was called, and right now, i can’t be muffed looking it up. but the theories are sound, and with a little effort the results could be rewarding.


    Necessity is the mother of all invention.

  6. Screw messing around with the human genome, I want a mattress plant with a pillow shrub next to it. Or maybe something less bizarre like a trash can that converts biological material into electrical power for the household.

  7. of course an air conditioner is a hack. it’s understanding how something works (nature… wind… cycles.. heat.. cold) and then engineering something to edit it, change it, hack it.

    in the same way that binoculars are a visual hack.

    you really should have listened to the rest of the video…

  8. great talk loved it lol

    it still seems a little bizarre to try and put copyright and restriction on something as essential and universal as DNA though, although the points he made about regulations and legal point of interception seemed valid

    seriously is you havent watched the video its great

    there should be more of this kind of hackers/science collaboration, especially in the engineering/biosciences sector

    top notch article :)

  9. @dave:
    “There was a book about neuro-linguistic hacking published some years back that really grabbed me.”

    That was Snow Crash. (SPOILERS) Someone essentially figured out the verbal machine languange of humans and used it to write a ‘virus’.

  10. Biological hacking creates the risk of infection and epidemics because of the mutations that result through genetic evolution. This field should not be compared to computer hacking and discussed in such a playful manner. Genetic research is important, but must have limits or there will be manufactured diseases and genetic pollution everywhere. BT corn is already prevalent in corn for human consumption. Remember the Taco Bell corn shells with BT corn? It’s in a whole lot more foods now.

  11. Script kiddies making Ebola is pretty scary. The next school massacre could be a lot worse. The kid who killed the world because he got picked on. The safety precaution mentioned in the talk of having synthesis labs think about what they are sending out will work in the near term as long as you put controls on owning DNA synthesizers. Right now you can order them on e-bay though. All that said, fortune favors the bold and I don’t think we should let the risk of our extinction intimidate us, the rewards are as big as the risk.

  12. I was thinking the exact same thing duran, very bioshock-esque.

    As far as concerns about certain types of people being able to create genetic weapons, or even accidentally make some form of mutated virus/bacterial strain I’m really not that worried. For one we have to take into account that this happens in nature to a certain extent. Secondly we as a species have already done this with things like the introduction of antibiotics, their widespread use is theorized as the reason for new AB resistant bacterial strains.

    My biggest reason for not being worried is because of the people who already do this sort of research. There’s a professor(I believe of some type of bio science[it’s been a while since I read this article]) at UT@Austin, who is a proponent of wiping out the human race to restore the earth to a “natural” state. With guys like that already in the business, why would I be worried about some “hacker” who just wants to be able to shoot fire and lightning from his hands?

  13. I’d just like to quote Adam Smith in response to some of the posts here about “greedy corporations” and other sentiments of ridiculous anti-market bias:

    “By pursuing his own interest an individual frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the publick good.”

    His book (yes, book! not an internet blurb!) and Caplan’s “The myth of the rational voter” are recommended reading for people who read this blog: the very intelligent, noble, and righteous, steeped in unenlightened economics thinking.

  14. I wonder what RMS would have to say on synbio :)

    Maybe he’d go onto create the GAS project, for GAS Ain’t Synbio because some mega corporation will have a copyright on the term Synbio itself ;)

    Will there be perl modules to create bacteria? Anyhow, when I get some slack money to throw around, I’ll register dnaforge.net ;)

  15. ZZZZZZ…
    Dream on Reality hacks. Efforts to change your DNA source code will probably result in plaguing the entire biosphere (planet earth) with renegade reproducting viral infections. Major problem here is: there’s so many variables in the code that you’ll never be able to firewall yourselves from these viruses – and they won’t be virutual – it’ll be too late once they are unleashed.

  16. This is a really interesting growing and expanding field that now seems to be researched only by private investigation centers and colleges but in the near future with the democratization of dna pcr and related technologies will be open to anyone with an average knowledge of basic biology and higher level of programming biological “structures” (u can look it at the function level, the kind of receptors,…),…
    It seems that true nanotechnology is available now in the form of programmable biological viruses

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