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Creating Frankenstein Now Possible in Your Neighbors' Garage

Updated on May 4, 2012

When Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein nearly 200 years ago - before DNA, or even the basic proteins that are the building blocks of life - was discovered, she envisioned an attempt by man to play God and questioned the ethics. The basis was electricity, which had recently been discovered to be part of the life process itself.

Fast forward from 1823 and we are now living in an era where Frankenstein is quite possible, and some say already exists as we have transplanted everything from hearts to skin. Many people are walking around with body parts of another to keep them alive. My mom has a liver and a kidney, both from different people.

Thirty plus years removed from the first test tube baby, we are on the verge of a revolution in biological science similar to that of computers when people like Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were building first generation home computers in their garage. Technology has advanced, and applications for computers have gone far beyond accounting and number crunching of raw data.

Underground labs have been a chemists’ playground for years, steroids, bombs and psychedelic drugs are among those cooked up in such labs. Getting the idea? These people need not be sophisticated, information is widely available on chemistry and other subjects for those willing to learn how to make bombs, drugs, robots, and more. Biology and genetics have now caught up.

For less than $1000 you can choose from DNA sequencers of several types – new and used, for about $600 you can get centrifuges and other equipment necessary to separate or combine DNA materials. Check out a few science and biology magazines and see for yourself.

Without getting too scientific, you can buy Atg’s, which is basically a genetic protein-coding molecule, histones, which are the proteins that create the structure for DNA, glucose assays and even stem cells. Epitomics, a company that sells proteins and other cellular structures, was advertising a $99 antibody special in the April edition of Science magazine.

In 2010 researchers at the Max Planck Institute in Germany succeeded in creating a new, single cell life form. It will not be long before more complex organisms can be created, maybe even in your neighbors’ garage. In fact, several discoveries have already come from garage labs, mostly from scientists working on their own to find cures for family members’ illnesses, but many of these scientists were working out of their fields and were able to accomplish results. These people took it upon themselves to learn something new, the only advantage they had was that they already were scientist in another area and just concentrated their intelligence and confidence into another area.

While cloning and creating complex organism will eventually be done anyway, the main concern to me is the bad things that can be done with the basement labs. We have seen how many meth labs blow up. What if the amateur biologist is working with a flu virus. Why not? It is easy enough to get samples for free during the flu season, buy some equipment and you can start splicing and mixing your own custom virus. The U.S., Russia and others have already done similar things to smallpox and other viruses for military purposes. Bio terror is a real threat.

Who will monitor these labs, like the meth labs - no one. Accidents could release harmful biological agents, and some may not be accidents. Due to the chemicals involved, Hazmat treatment is necessary for cleaning up of meth labs. Biological contaminants will require possibly more extreme measures.

How about your DNA? Your neighbor may sequence that too. We leave traces of our DNA everywhere, these garage biologists won’t need to go far for samples. Imagine living near the guy who hacks your computer during the week and collects and sequences your family’s DNA on weekends, also without your permission. We are to that point now where almost anyone can steal your genetic information and do something with it. Maybe you should bring your own glass and utensils to that smart neighbors’ next barbeque.

The problem is not simple to resolve either, DNA is made up of simple proteins, widely available from nature, and the methods for bringing them together are published and technology exists to process and manipulate the materials. In other words, the whole world is basically a free store, and while these garage bio-engineers won’t be able to buy Polio or Smallpox viruses, most anything else can be obtained through either samples obtained from the public sources or purchased online or through the mail.

We have now entered an era where we can play God, creator or manipulate the mechanisms of evolution. Whatever theory you believe, we are on the brink of being able to do what was once though of as impossible.There is no turning back, the genie is out of the bottle. What we need to figure out is how to be sure people are not gathering DNA for nefarious purposes or creating new strains of diseases for the sole purpose of devastation. Questions arise of how to assure safety, not just of neighbors, but entire populations. Terrorists and others with agendas against groups or society have a new tool, potentially more devastating than making bombs or drugs.

The ability to make concoctions that target specific ethnic, age or population groups is not far from the truth in 2012, and even easier to make indiscriminate concoctions that just kill almost everyone.

Not far from now, it may not be just viruses and DNA manipulation, but the actual creation of organisms through cloning or simply growing them in a lab, is just around the corner. The Max Planck Institute has already made the turn. Someone may try to make their own army of clones, or mutate something we know into something deadly.

There is no guide or internet instructions for sensible use of technologies, so it is up to us to figure it out - before it is too late. However, with the genie already out of the bottle, and no solutions in the works, we will likely have to wait until there is a huge problem from this, to which authority will reflexively overreact and set standards. I just hope we are still alive by then.


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    • mwilliams66 profile image

      mwilliams66 5 years ago from Left Coast, USA

      Very thought provoking. A fascinating read.

    • Irob profile image

      Irob 5 years ago from St. Charles

      SelenaLyn - Thanks, the advantages of being young, hopefully though you know what happened to the results of your DNA sequencing. We didn't even have computers when I was in 7th grade, I was building an Altair in my neighbor's basement. ADn a closet or small room will do, I was reading about a woman with bachelors in Chemistry who set up her own lab in the laundry room of her apartment.

    • profile image

      SelenaLyn 5 years ago

      This was an interesting read-- I remember how in seventh grade I sequenced my DNA, which just shows how accessible technology is. I have to admit, and army of clones in my garage would be pretty cool, though. Now I just need a garage...

    • Irob profile image

      Irob 5 years ago from St. Charles

      Alex and Stephanie....To show it can be accident that reasearcher last week got killed when he accidentally infected himslef with Menegitis I believe it was. It is not the government I worry about on this ALex, it is private enterprise and groups who are creating stuff with no rules, guidelines and they can submit their own research reports without any independent verification for approval, but companies do far more secret work in these areas than the goverment, true some of them work for the goverment.

    • Irob profile image

      Irob 5 years ago from St. Charles

      Stephanie - limits are constantly being reset these days and until people learn to respect others and quit trying to impose their wills on others, we will always have someone or someones trying to do others harm. It is jsut a new tool, no need to be more paranoid. Most uses will be good.

    • profile image

      Alexander Barnhart 5 years ago

      Glad to see you're offering the folks a view at the dark side of creating biological weapons.

      However, just a thought, technology to create small weapons to wreck havoc could be done by terrorists with the right knowledge. I believe that problem is not near the problem that could be created by secretive labs funded by government related organizations thru the black budget. Check out the book Aids & Ebola by Len Horowitz, he did trace the creation of the AIDS virus. There is a money trail and a paper trail, he found it. It was not to a local terrorist group but DOD and large corporation related.

      The real problem is the not the small time lab guy, but the BIG time lab guys. NO ONE is watching them at all, because it's behind doors which require classified clearances.

      Of course if anything does happen the small time lab guys can always be blamed. Now you have a scapegoat. How Convenient?

    • Stephanie Henkel profile image

      Stephanie Henkel 5 years ago from USA

      This is very interesting and a little scary, too. As science and technology advances there doesn't seem to be a limit on what can be accomplished. We like to think that this knowledge will be used for good, but, as your article points out, that isn't necessarily true. I'm not a paranoid person, but now I wonder if I should be...

      Voted up and interesting!