DIY Plant Genetic Engineering?

DIYbio.jpgBiotech in Your Garage.

Is it possible that the kids across the street could someday soon be creating genetically engineered plants in their garage or greenhouse? (Now there’s a scary thought.)

This may be more feasible than you think.

An article called Garage Biology in a recent issue of Nature magazine (see ref. 1 below) attracted my attention to the burgeoning field of “do-it-yourself” (DIY) biotech.

For relatively modest amount of money, a person can set up a reasonably functional molecular biology lab, in part, by acquiring used lab equipment in places such as eBay. See, for example, this garage biology lab in Silicon Valley.

The above article is mainly about Dr. Rob Carlson, a pioneer in the field of “garage biotech” (see refs. 2 & 3 below). He has recently published a book called Biology Is Technology: The Promise, Peril, and New Business of Engineering Life. According to one prominent reviewer: “Since Rob Carlson is THE authoritative tracker of progress in biotech, this book is the most complete – and exciting – chronicle of the technological revolution that promises to dominate this century.” –Stewart Brand, Author of Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto.

fruit_helix.jpgInformation regarding “biohackers” can, of course, be found online (e.g., see ref 4 below).

But even if you don’t have the money or knowledge to do such science yourself, there may actually be community biotechnology labs in your city (e.g., see ref. 5 below) that provide the training and equipment. A DIY Biotech hacker space has recently opened in NYC.

So, similar to open source computer software, does there exist a growing field of “open source biotechnology”. Some say yes, but others say no.

Regardless, the recombinant DNA genie is out of the bottle (so to speak), and the knowledge and equipment required to perform gene splicing can easily be acquired (or built).

And getting such recombinant DNA (artificial genes) transferred into plants is relatively easy (compared to animals).


See here and/or here, for example.

But for a sobering look at the current limitations of so-called “synthetic biology“, please see reference 6 below.

Here’s a new book on the subject: Biopunk: DIY Scientists Hack the Software of Life

Recent News: A Dream of Glowing Trees at Night


1. Ledford, Heidi (2010) “Life Hackers.” Nature Vol. 467, pp. 650-652. (PDF)

2. Carlson, Rob (2005) “Splice It Yourself: Who needs a geneticist? Build your own DNA lab.” Wired, Issue 13:05. Splice It Yourself

3. Rob Carlson’s Blog

4. is an organization dedicated to making biology an accessible pursuit for citizen scientists, amateur biologists and biological engineers who value openness and safety.

5. GenSpace – New York City’s Community Lab GenSpace is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting education in molecular biology for both children and adults. We work inside and outside of traditional settings, providing a safe, supportive environment for training and mentoring in biotechnology.

6. Kwok, Roberta (2010) “Five hard truths for synthetic biology.” Nature Vol. 463, pp. 288-290. (HTML) (PDF) “Can engineering approaches tame the complexity of living systems? Roberta Kwok explores five challenges for the field and how they might be resolved.

HowPlantsWork © 2008-2011 All Rights Reserved.


  1. Quite scientific, but something great…

    thanks for sharing!

  2. Interesting, very interesting. Got me thinking very hard. Thanks for sharing this!

  3. Yes extremely good post! Why dont we take it a step further already and start experimenting on our kids and pets. That would be great!
    The truth is that we dont know what will happen with GMOs in coming generations. Also the effects of GMOs on us humans is unknown and it doesnt look good.

    Dont we have enough mad scientists experimenting on our daily environment as it is?

  4. Oi.. we haven’t even started to understand how the DNA works.. it’s not just the four base code you know..
    there are Copy-Paste and Cut-Past parts that hop around, cell nuclei seem to be able to communicate with each other without interchanging molecules (in different glasses!!!) – could be UV light since if the glass blocks that it doesn’t work anymore,
    the cromosomes move around the nuclei without us knowing how (for repairs, for example, the second copy can be brought alongside the broken one – without apparent transport mechanism)
    and I haven’t even started about the complicated and confusing behaviour when genes are turned on or off.

    We don’t know anything here, really. We shouldn’t mess with it until we do I believe.

    -from the science frontier-

  5. After an Ashford and Simpson concert in D.C. one night, a friend and I met a midnight shift attendant at the Hilton Hotel. He confided that he had once worked at the Pentagon and discovered that they had embryos in jars as part of a scientific study(my mind registered a miniature ET)……….okay…..leavin’ that alone…….

    With that said, I will shift to the plant kingdom. DIY bio for me means talking to my plants and sending them positive energy(increases their growth)…and mixing gold fish food with the earth in which the plant will thrive…assists in the nourishment of the plant.

    Some things are left better in the hands of God, Allah, Jah…. or for a more neutral stance…the higher Universal Power.

  6. Interesting post, really got me thinking. Thanks for posting! C

  7. Congratulations on being freshly pressed!

    Yeah, Open Source Biotechnology is going to be big in the future! I’m already in the process of joining and participating with the DIYbio community. It will be fascinating how things turn out. IGEM is fascinating too.

  8. Interesting article. I only wonder if genetically engineered plants and animals have an adverse affect on the human body. I would think that when foods are genetically altered that the human body responds to it in a different way. Although I am not aware of any research that has been done to study this. I wonder…Great post.

  9. The only bio thingy I have experience with is bio fuel. Lol.

  10. Woah…wasn’t there a kick-ass movie featuring Jeff Goldblum released in the early 90’s which told the cautionary tale of what happens when we mess with animal DNA? Oh yeah…”Jurassic Park”!

    All kidding aside, this post was immensely interesting. Congrats on FP!

  11. VERY interesting!

  12. Fascinating! And great site – glad for you that you were freshly pressed, for me that it facilitated discovery of a pretty spiffy blog! Congrats, will be back often!

  13. love anything that is still exploring possibilities!

  14. I’m waiting for that “jetsons” moment of popping that pill in the microwave and it turns into a full blown meal. Nothing surprises me anymore though. Great info.

  15. im sure within a few years scientists can make anything, from fruits and veggies to meats and poultry. pretty crazy thought

  16. Hmm. I wonder if a science nerd like me would actually be able to do this someday. If I did, well, my head would hurt from all the jumping and hitting the cieling.

  17. Wow thank you for posting this. I am a DIY enthusiast with a special interest in plants. One of my goals is to learn how to create hybrid plants. I’m bookmarking the links you’ve posted so I can read them later.

    Congrats on being freshly pressed!

  18. Fascinating! I wonder if one of those labs could be set up here in Port-au-Prince–so we could come up with more efficient ways to grow food that would feed hungry people here in Haiti. Actually, this form of DIY is beyond me, but my blog will will help DIY you to news about life here on my tiny island!

  19. What a great thought: We still don’t know longterm consequences of genetically modified foods and then everyone can brew their own plant DNA sequence at home and (accidentally) release it into the wild.


  20. It may be an interesting learning experience for tots, instead of your average chemistry set kids can learn how their food is made.

    I remember creating different engineered plants in biology class long ago, just by splicing together two plants, like tomacco, a tomato and a tobacco plant hybrid, this could also be a fun project.

  21. This is great! If the tech improves enough I will be able to start work on my ultimate goal – genetically modified plants that grow meat!

  22. this is so far above my head, but congrats on freshly pressed anyway!

  23. Personally, I’m waiting for the DIY cheek swab test that, with one quick swipe administered on a first date, determines if said-dater has the “cheating gene.” 😉

    Interesting post — thanks!

  24. Wow! Genetically modified plants! What a cool post- I wonder where science will lead us 10-20 years form now…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.