On Oct 18, O'Reilly media distributed the first issue of the new BioCoder Newsletter to its user group members. O'Reilly hopes to be on the leading edge of an exploding frontier. "Biology in 2013 feels like computing in 1975 (just before the PC): ripe for an explosion." says Mike Loukides, Editor. Something is happening and Loukides hopes to facilitate communication among the emerging players. And of course, by catalyzing a new growth industry, Mike hopes to get future subscriptions to the newsletter and, as O'Reilly has done in IT, become a preferred publisher for this growth field. Good luck to both O'Reilly and the players in this emerging space.
So, what is BioCoder about? Outside of the increasingly stodgy and unresponsive corporate biotech culture there are now synthetic biologists, DIY (do it yourself) biolabs, and of course biohacking. In the feature article, Biotech's Cambrian Era, Ryan Bethencort suggests emergence of a "real" biotech industry. He warns that "to create the innovation we want in biotech, we may have to burn the bridges that got us here and re-create it ourselves, with or without the dinosaur the current biotech industry has become." This sounds similar to the space exploration innovation message we hear from Golden Spike Company. Whether it's FDA regulatory burden or NASA's demise, or just lack of responsiveness from massive multinationals, innovation is not coming from the established players. Can the little guys in their garages make a dent or is biotech really more like the $1.5 billion lunar landings Golden Spike is selling? Loukides has started that conversation.
As with any new technology, there is tremendous potential and also some obvious risk. Private space launches raise the possibility of terrorists orbiting a nuke (Golden Spike has this under control - no mystery cargo). Lack of legal precedents and wide access to the internet has led to massive organized crime efforts in identity fraud and on-line theft, as well as major damage from "kiddie hackers" and would be terrorists. DIY biotech hold out the same promise. FDA won't approve the drug you need to save your life? No problem, you can synthesize it yourself in your garage or at least in a rental biotech clean room. However, the broader the access to this technology, the more potential for a major disaster from terrorists attacks or simply antisocial kids who don't understand the havoc they can unleash. Releasing a biotoxin is not the same as bringing down a commercial website. This has the potential for dead bodies. In DIYbio and the "New FBI" Michael Scroggins reported on a 2012 FBI sponsored forum on DIYbio. Scroggins wondered about an implied connection "between DIYbio laboratories and flight schools." Biotech can be a WMD and the DIYbio community needs to look at this Neon Swan before an incident tarnishes the community.