Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Biopunk: DIY Scientists Hack the Software of Life

Biopunk: DIY Scientists Hack the Software of LifeBiopunk: DIY Scientists Hack the Software of Life by Marcus Wohlsen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I first heard about this book on Wisconsin Public Radio's "To the Best of our Knowledge". The idea of an underground movement of geeks and brains working on gene splicing in their kitchens and garages intrigued me and the subject matter dovetailed nicely with my in-progress science fiction novel. In true DIY fashion, I borrowed the book from the library and gave it a read.

The subject of the book is romantic and intriguing: imagine self-trained scientists mimicking and refining larger-scale, more expensive endeavors usually undertaken by well-funded research institutions and corporations. Now imagine that these experiments are done not only on the cheap, but that the greatest desire of these scientists is not to make a profit (though some do) but to share the knowledge they've gained for the betterment of the world. It's like a hippie-biologist utopia.

By and large I enjoyed the book. I did note, however, one chapter that strayed a little too far into the corporate and out of the homegrown science that Wohlsen seems to admire so much. This really tested my patience - just when I thought we would get further down into the specifics of some experiments, the author took what I felt was a side-turn into an example that was largely corporate, rather than DIY.

Other than that one flaw, I greatly enjoyed the book. I'm not a scientist, but would have enjoyed going a bit more in-depth about the specifics of *what* these DIY scientists were doing, rather than dwelling so much on the how or the why, but I was able to learn what I needed to for my own research and with a little poking around on the internet, learned enough to tackle the problems of my own novel. Worth a read, and good for what it is, but to give it five stars it would probably have to be significantly longer, with more examples of what the biopunk movement is *doing* and how their results may or may not affect the larger world. Maybe this is good, since it forces me to extrapolate my own ideas of what might be possible in a world of my own creating.

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Addendum: A very interesting article on programming cells' DNA as if it were a circuit. The next frontier in Biopunk???

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