Abstract – Open Source Biotech – Jeremy Nagel

William Donovan will be co-presenting the open source biotech talk with Jeremy Nagel.
Everyone knows you need millions of dollars and a PhD to do biotechnology research. Right? Well someone forgot to tell the high school kids taking part in the iGEM (international genetically engineered machine) contest. Hundreds of teams of young people from all around the world are now taking part in the open source biotechnology revolution. They have designed and built biosensors, which turn red when there are toxic amounts of mercury in soil; ‘hole pluggers’, which sniff out and fill in gaps in concrete structures; and even living computer screens.

How is this possible? Two reasons: technology and freedom of information. Rapid progress in technologies like DNA sequencing and synthesis have dramatically lowered the cost and complexity of creating genetically modified organisms. It’s easier than ever before and keeps getting easier. On the information side, science is opening up. Disciplinary silos are breaking apart as molecular biologists, engineers and coders join forces in a new wave of innovation. Instead of hoarding away knowledge and rushing to the patent office at the mere whiff of a discovery, people are giving away their intellectual property for free to the community. The open source software movement has been translated into open source biotech. Sites like partsregistry.org allow anyone to get their hands on the DNA code to design a new life form.

The implications are big. Some economists predict that 50% of future economic growth will come from biotechnology. The low barriers to entry mean that developing nations can join in too.

However, despite the excitement there are some concerns to address. Should we be allowing people to set up garage laboratories? Are there safety risks? Could bio-terrorists use these tools to create a ‘super-anthrax’? Are there ethical issues? Should humans be designing life?

During this session, you will enter an Open Source Biotech simulation, where you build your own lifeform. You will use a rapid prototyping approach and work in teams to design a microbe that solves one of humanity’s pressing problems (or just does something really cool!). The most creative team will win a special Open Source Biotech prize. We will then use the lifeforms you create to discuss the potential benefits and pitfalls of Open Source Biotech.

Join the discussion at the H+ Summit, where Melbourne’s leading experts will share their experience and their vision for the future.

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