24C3: Programming DNA

Due to some mishaps I happen to miss one of the great talks of the first day of the 24C3 which was „Programming DNA“ presented by Drew Endy. So first of all there has to go a big THANKS to the people who provided the excellent live-stream which gave me the opportunitiy to watch the talk and some part of the discussion. Unfortunately the live-strem is always punctual…the talks usually not. well-

As it was mostly an introduction to biological engeineering to the computer science community there was not soo much new stuff for me presented in this talk. Nonetheless it was quite interesting to have another look into the engineering currently done all over the world. Stricingly interesting was for exemple the study presenting an approach for biological tracking of cancer cells with bacteria in order to develop an alternative approach for cancer detection and maybe treatment. I think I have to look this one up…

Some thoughts on the questions Endy put: Will there be biological hackers? As Endy also put and referred to with numerous examples- yes there are actually a lot of people doing research in the area of hacking the genome, changing the code by purpose, filtering parts of it and building new code from scratch. Actually in a broader context this one is quite classical as companies dealing with seeds, nutrition and health additives, beer ect… are working on the specific optimization of their organisms for years now, getting more specifically molecular biological (like specific changes in one gene, one clone, one molecule, one pathway…) with the development of better working tools. In terms of the develpoment of better, less expensive, open source tools for gaining data and analyzing data there are also many people working in this field also as presented by Endy (electrophorese chambers, PCRmachines…). So we end up with: There are and there will be biological hackers as long as biology exist,  even more so as new techniques evolve.

So will there be a biological hacker community? I´d rather think yes, nonetheless at the moment the biggest overlap and coming together of biologists of different areas is perhaps the methods part…there are a lot of forums connecting the people and there is a lot to talk about. In terms of hacking, deliberately altering the code it may be the areas of RNAi, cloning and knockout-mutants that are the most promising at the moment. What differs in the end vastly to the informatics community is the open source aspect. There is apart from bioinformatics which covers nowadays the main part of the data analysis no real way to get past patented sequences, enzymes, palsmids, even organisms and techniques. So this is one of the challenging problems the community faces and where we still have to do a lot of work. Also this reflects to the main parts of the publishing culture in the biological area because the least articles are freely accessible. This will surely change over the next years as people are now starting to wake up and use publication platforms such as PLoS. So what may be the most crucial part of developing a community apart from the usual is to find ways past the corset of rules and obligations biological patents force on us. This is getting more important with the development of the „third world“ areas of the world, simply by beeing inable to pay for biological patents on a large scale.

With this I switch back to the congress which will start in  exactly 9 minutes…

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