Would you like to sequence your genome in your garage? To grow your stem cells in the kitchen-lab? To hunt for point mutations just for your own sake? Welcome to the coming world of personal biotech.
All you need is a short course in biotech basics, a few thousands of bucks, some tinkering capability, and enough spare time. The beautiful retro idea of tinkering with digital devices in a garage, conveyed by the Make magazine, can be extended to biotech too.
The know-how of hacking seemingly complicated electronic devices has been made accessible to non-pros. The needs were fuelled by the idea of personal fabrication. However, needs are constantly changing, and biotech is gaining more and more ground in everyday life.
Incredible as it may sound, the basics of molecular biology – what is DNA, how genetic information is coded, how it turns to RNA, which base triplets fits to which amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, that make up your body – can be learnt within 2 hours. Another intensive two weeks in an official lab with an instructor and you can work with them.
The main technology to be applied is the so called polymerase chain reaction (PCR), a method for specifically amplifying a region of DNA through cycles of 3 repeated temperature steps: 1, denaturing double-stranded DNA, 2, demarcating the targeted sequence with primers, 3, synthesizing the newborn strand with a polymerase enzyme.
You can isolate DNA from anywhere (hair, saliva etc.) order the appropriate primers, and then see the sequence amplifying.
The basics of in vitro cell culture, i.e. the method how to isolate and maintain cells through passages, is a simple kitchen recipe, like the algorithms of making a steak.
If interested, you can do home biotech, you have the right and power to work with the basic macromolecules (DNA, RNA, protein) of life and with cells too. But it is not allowed to make experiments with animals and humans because of straightforward ethical reasons. DNA, cells, yes, animals and humans, no. So let’s exercise our rights and keep in mind the ethical standards.
In the era of bioterrorism, raising self-awareness is crucial: knowing and using bioDIY in a clear-cut and legal way helps to dissipate fears. Biotech geeks, sequence your genome and look at your proteome. At home.