Legislation - let's get the ball rolling

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Daniel C.

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Feb 26, 2009, 7:49:20 PM2/26/09
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DIYbio is eventually going to face government regulation. If we wait
until someone finds out that we're cultivating organisms with scary
names in our homes and then "blows the whistle" (as they would see
it), we're going to be fighting an uphill battle in the court of
public opinion and in the view of the legislators who are going to be
framing laws to control what we can and can't do. I think it would be
best if we took the initiative and made sure that the regulations are
put together with our input and guidance.

I happen to know a Utah state senator who I could talk to about
drafting a bill that explicitly legalizes DIYbio labs. Before I meet
with him I'd like some input on what kind of suggestions I should
make. I want to make sure I've got all my bases covered, all my ducks
in a row, etc. before I go talk to him. So, here's some food for
thought...

His first question is going to be, "What's to prevent someone from
registering a home lab as a DIYbio lab and then making meth or other
drugs in it?" Meth, and meth labs, are a HUGE problem in Utah.
Unless this can be dealt with to the satisfaction of the legislators,
and anyone in the public who catches wind of it, ain't nothin' going
nowhere.

What are the most serious safety concerns that are likely to come up
in a DIYbio lab? Which of these are possible to manage or mitigate to
an acceptable level (and how), which are simply too dangerous and
should be made illegal if they aren't already (like human cloning,
experimentation on ebola, or other more subtle things I'm not thinking
of), and which are perceived as dangerous by the uneducated but are
actually safe.

For the last category - perceived risks that are actually not risks at
all - what are they likely to be and how can I best explain that they
are actually safe? (One thing I do plan to point out is that to some
extent it's impossible to make some of these things illegal because if
you did, you would also be making bathrooms illegal.)

What level of regulation, oversight, and (basically) govt. intrusion
into our labs do we feel is acceptable? Is it reasonable to ask
DIYbioers to register their labs with their city or state prior to
conducting certain kinds of procedures, or storing/working with
certain chemicals or organisms? If so, where should the line be
drawn?

If registration is required, how should it be handled? I think the
best way would be to require the DIYbio lab owner to have a professor
of biology from an accredited university visit the lab, and then sign
a form or letter saying that the lab is safe and that the person is
using it the way they say they are, that they know what they're doing,
not breeding anthrax, etc. There would have to be a way to protect
the professor from liability - we don't want this kind of thing to
come back and bite them in the... butt... if they sign off on a lab,
and then the owner takes all their meth-making junk out of the closet
as soon as he leaves and starts churning out crack. Also, forcing the
DIYbioer to bring a professor over will - I hope - help foster
relationships between schools and amateurs. The most obvious problem
with this is for people who live in rural areas. Maybe expanding the
people who are allowed to sign off on such a letter to include
doctors, vets, and basically anyone with biological lab training would
be a good idea.

That's all I can think of now. Please respond with comments,
questions, criticisms and suggestions. I'd like to have a full
proposal ready by the middle of March.

Thanks,
Dan C.

Jeswin John

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Feb 26, 2009, 7:57:09 PM2/26/09
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I 'd like to be the first to say, "DIYbio was good while it lasted." Just kidding. This is almost like death knoll for DIYbio. But who knows what the future holds.

Computers: They produce more good than harm.

DIYbio: Probably producing or potentially produce more harm than good

Look at the state(s) that already have bans on owning lab glassware. War on drugs has and will have a negative effect on any present and future DIYbio.
--
*-----------------------------------------------------------*
Join the Revolution

http://diybio.org/
http://homebrewbioscience.blogspot.com/
*------------------------------------------------------------*

Parijata Mackey

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Feb 26, 2009, 8:26:13 PM2/26/09
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What level of regulation, oversight, and (basically) govt. intrusion
into our labs do we feel is acceptable?

Imho, as little as possible.


I think the best way would be to require the DIYbio lab owner to have a professor
of biology from an accredited university visit the lab, and then sign
a form or letter saying that the lab is safe and that the person is
using it the way they say they are, that they know what they're doing,
not breeding anthrax, etc. 

There has to be a better way to do this. This seems akin to getting a business license, which means extra fees and paperwork -- too much, I think, for hobbyists. Maybe you could emphasize the fact that this is a hobby like any other, and try to work in some sort of privacy clause into whatever legislation you propose?

Unless there is evidence that an individual is creating something harmful, there should be no need for regulation and pre-emptive monitoring. How many potential diyers would be dissuaded by the time, money, and paperwork involved in this process? Not to mention hunting down professors and having them come inspect their home?

I wouldn't have to register with the government if I were gardening, or building model airplanes. I shouldn't have to register with the government for doing harmless biology. We do have to not monitor low-risk, homebrew science. Fear fueled by ignorance should not dictate our legislation.

That said, it is difficult to obtain dangerous biological materials without some sort of professional affiliation (university, industry, etc). This is enough of a regulatory deterrent to begin with. If someone is trying to cause harm, and is willing to seek out illegal supplies, they're probably not going to be nice and register their lab with the government, either.


Also, forcing the DIYbioer to bring a professor over will - I hope - help foster
relationships between schools and amateurs.

True. But I'd prefer such relationships to occur naturally.

Thank you for taking the initiative to discuss this with your legislator. I hope we can contribute in a way that is useful.

We have to be aware that any precedents set now could have a huge impact on future laws -- I am afraid that over-regulation will kill DIYbio altogether.

I think we should aim to set a precedent for privacy and minimal regulation when it comes to DIYbiology -- cumbersome laws and regulations will never keep with the pace of technological change.


On Thu, Feb 26, 2009 at 7:49 PM, Daniel C. <dcroo...@gmail.com> wrote:



--
Parijata Mackey
University of Chicago
1005 E 60th St
Chicago, IL 60637
pari...@gmail.com
www.parijata.com

--

"Have patience with all yet unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and foreign scripts. Do not now seek the answers. They cannot yet be given because you could not yet live them -- and the point is to live everything. At the present, you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day."

- Rainer Maria Rilke

Dan

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Feb 26, 2009, 8:44:50 PM2/26/09
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I'd say that some sort of legislation is not a bad idea. If properly
done, it gives a nice protective umbrella that shields us from SWAT
teams,etc. What I'd say is to use the existing model. You register a
laboratory and the state comes by once a year or so to do an
inspection to make certain that everything is up to code. They
already do that for all sorts of businesses and if the state is
concerned about meth lab issues, the inspectors can do a sweep for
meth production chemicals to reassure themselves that you're on the
level.

Many different businesses, especially food and beverage, are subject
to regular inspections. I don't know the status on commercial and
academic labs but I assume that there's some sort of framework in
place since I regularly saw fume hood inspection stickers, etc.

Really, this isn't such a bad thing. I've done plenty of dumb things
in the past without realizing it and i think that the conceit here
that all of us are attentive enough to know every safety issue that
will come up is a bit overoptimistic. I've seen enough scary things
done by people that should have known better - I once had a chem grad
student in my old lab that left a pair of unsecured *hydrogen*
cylenders sitting around...

Having a certified authority do a once over is really a good idea.
Maye you didn't know that keeping acids and flammable chemicals in the
same cabinet area is a bad idea or that the ether bottle you've had
sitting around is a bomb. There's lots of weird, non-intuitive ways
to get hurt doing this stuff.

I do think that being proactive and approaching local, state and
national authorities is a good idea. Doing so helps to ensure that
the inevitable legislation is friendlier.

Daniel C.

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Feb 26, 2009, 10:12:29 PM2/26/09
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On Thu, Feb 26, 2009 at 6:26 PM, Parijata Mackey <pari...@gmail.com> wrote:
>> What level of regulation, oversight, and (basically) govt. intrusion
>> into our labs do we feel is acceptable?
>
> Imho, as little as possible.

I agree completely! Which is why I want us to bring up the issue
before the "Think of the Children" crowd does. If we volunteer to
self-regulate it will be a huge mark in our favor. And part of
self-regulation is being willing to inconvenience ourselves somewhat
as the procedures we want to carry out become more dangerous. At the
lowest levels, where the potential harm is on par with airplane
modeling or gardening, there should be no need for any regulation or
oversight. But there will probably be people who will want to perform
dangerous enough procedures that some degree of oversight is
reasonable. What I don't know is where that line should be drawn.

Keep in mind that since this is a hobby, people with little or no
training in safe laboratory procedures are going to be taking it up.
They may not even be aware that some of the things they're reading
about or doing are dangerous. Passing laws requiring people to
participate in safety training may not be the best answer, but it is
something we should address - if only so that when the question comes
up we can demonstrate that we've dealt with it appropriately.
Hopefully our own actions will be enough to convince lawmakers that
regulation is unnecessary or need not be as strict as it may otherwise
be. I'm sure there are other examples of hobby groups doing similar
things - I'll look into it.

> Fear fueled by ignorance should not dictate our legislation.

I agree. But it will if we're not careful.

> That said, it is difficult to obtain dangerous biological materials without
> some sort of professional affiliation (university, industry, etc). This is
> enough of a regulatory deterrent to begin with. If someone is trying to
> cause harm, and is willing to seek out illegal supplies, they're probably
> not going to be nice and register their lab with the government, either.

An excellent point, which I will be sure to stress. Again, my goal is
not to put restrictions on what we can and can't do, but to explicitly
legalize DIYbio with as little red tape as possible. Also it would be
great if we could somehow avoid SWAT teams smashing into our homes and
destroying our labs because they don't know the difference between
biology equipment and meth lab equipment. (This is a genuine concern
of mine, with the fear of meth labs so high in Utah. If anyone saw me
with glassware or anything that looks lab-related they may very well
call the police, who would then descend upon me in a shoot first, ask
questions later raid. I don't want to get shot.)

> We have to be aware that any precedents set now could have a huge impact on
> future laws -- I am afraid that over-regulation will kill DIYbio altogether.

Agreed. If I understand correctly, most states will follow the lead
of whichever state is first to pass legislation on an issue. If we
can get one state to pass friendly laws, it will make it much easier
for other people to approach their own state legislation and get
friendly laws passed.

-DTC

DS

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Feb 27, 2009, 9:57:22 AM2/27/09
to DIYbio
I'm involved in the federal government's current efforts to address
the risks posed by synthetic biology, so I think I can shed a little
light on the legislation/regulation angle. DISCLAIMER: My views I'm
about to express are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my
employer (the U.S. State Department) or executive branch writ large.

At the federal level, policymakers are currently focused on commercial
gene foundries capable of producing gene-length sequences of
synthetically-produced DNA. DIYbio is not on their radar screen and
is unlikely to emerge as an issue for a least another year or more.

That being said, devising a scheme for self-regulation would be a good
way to minimize the risks you've mentioned and while also heading off
discussion of legislative action. A self-regulatory scheme could be
as simply as agreeing to a code of conduct that articulates certain
lab safety standards and avers work that might be interpreted as
having a potential offensive use, such as tinkering with virulence or
toxin production sequences or as invasive as having a third-party
provide informal lab certification -- or you could pursue a
combination of approaches.

I would suggest thinking about what are the values and behaviors you
would want to instill in someone who has a minimal amount of
experience with labwork and it is just now thinking about diving into
DIYbio.

Len Sassaman

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Feb 27, 2009, 11:12:01 AM2/27/09
to DIYbio
On Fri, 27 Feb 2009, DS wrote:

> I'm involved in the federal government's current efforts to address
> the risks posed by synthetic biology, so I think I can shed a little
> light on the legislation/regulation angle. DISCLAIMER: My views I'm
> about to express are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my
> employer (the U.S. State Department) or executive branch writ large.
>
> At the federal level, policymakers are currently focused on commercial
> gene foundries capable of producing gene-length sequences of
> synthetically-produced DNA. DIYbio is not on their radar screen and
> is unlikely to emerge as an issue for a least another year or more.

It's still good to have your input, especially early on in the process. I
hope that the talks that are going on balance risk vs. potential, be it
DIY enthusiasts learning basic biology principles, biologists with an
at-home lab, or commercial gene foundries or other commercial biotech. Too
often these days, no matter what the technology is, I notice people are
quick to jump on the statistically unlikely but scary threats/risks
without weighing the potential benefits against them -- any cutting-edge
field of scientific research will have its unpreventable accidents; I
think we have to accept a certain amount of that as the price of progress.
The question for the policymakers, in my opinion, should be how to
facilitate quality supply-chain trust (i.e., no matter who I am, I want to
be sure that what I am ordering is what I am getting, what is given to me
labeled as something is in fact that something, etc.) and how to help
protect against serious accidents / mitigate risk without hindering
scientific advancement.

> That being said, devising a scheme for self-regulation would be a good
> way to minimize the risks you've mentioned and while also heading off
> discussion of legislative action. A self-regulatory scheme could be
> as simply as agreeing to a code of conduct that articulates certain
> lab safety standards and avers work that might be interpreted as
> having a potential offensive use, such as tinkering with virulence or
> toxin production sequences or as invasive as having a third-party
> provide informal lab certification -- or you could pursue a
> combination of approaches.

What I'd like to see is an easily-accessible document that outlines, in
addition to "how to get started in this field", a firm basis in good lab
technique and safety protocols (the former being an essential part of the
latter, in most people's opinions.)

I'm against the third-party approach in general, because firstly, most
certifications only test that you can pass the certification, and this
often instills a false sense of security in the researcher -- for larger
institutions this sort of external auditing makes sense, but those
researchers already have an ingrained sense of good lab technique.

I think that education with respect to lab safety standards, and an
informal "agreement of conduct" are about as far as we should go -- one of
the key aspects to this movement toward bringing science back into the
realm of 'accessible to the lay person' is that there are no barriers to
entry other than knowledge and a minimal investment in lab equipment.
External certifications, etc., would almost certainly be ignored by the
sort of people you'd be hoping to most affect by them, and furthermore
might serve to deter interested, promising young biologists from entering
the field.

But ultimately, I don't think we should abdicate our duty of
self-regulating for safe conduct and acceptable behavior to a third party
auditor; social contracts are going to be more powerful on the DIYBIO
level than any certification program could be.

I strongly believe that we will best benefit from a self-enforced social
code of conduct that emphasizes the very real point that to perform good,
real lab work, one must have a protocol, and that any good protocol
considers the safety and hazard implications involved. (Even though the
failure mode for nearly all of the things we're doing here is "it grows
mold or smells bad", we still need to be practicing good lab technique,
sterile method, proper sanitary disposal of waste, etc.) All of this can
be done safely in the home lab, and safe practices should be second nature
to anyone who is going beyond the "reading about it" and into the "working
with cultures" stage of their intellectual journey.

Meredith, Mac, and Tito are working on a Lab Safety Manual for DIYBIO
people -- it's currently an outline of common sense practices, but I
expect it to expand as we grow:

http://openwetware.org/wiki/DIYbio:Notebook/Safety_Manual_1.0

(I have some long notes I wrote up about this, that I haven't sent
Meredith yet, but we should see some expansion on that document soon.)

> I would suggest thinking about what are the values and behaviors you
> would want to instill in someone who has a minimal amount of
> experience with labwork and it is just now thinking about diving into
> DIYbio.

That's one of the things that Meredith and I, and others in the community,
have been talking a lot about, since as I've stated above, I think this is
the best way to ensure a minimal chance of an accident occurring among
members of the DIYBIO community. Safety is already taken as a very serious
aspect of the culture among the "amateur" researchers I've spoken with and
worked with so far, and if we can help ensure that spreads as a key
principle to the new people being introduced to the great potential of
biology experimentation, we can use social methods rather than legislative
to achieve risk minimization.

When/if this does come onto the radar of the policymakers, I'd be happy to
talk to them about the issues. Thanks for your suggestions; they pretty
much confirm that we're on the right course already.


Best,

Len

Disclaimer: http://www.kuleuven.be/cwis/email_disclaimer.htm

Daniel C.

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Feb 27, 2009, 1:04:29 PM2/27/09
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On Fri, Feb 27, 2009 at 9:12 AM, Len Sassaman
<Len.Sa...@esat.kuleuven.be> wrote:
> When/if this does come onto the radar of the policymakers, I'd be happy to
> talk to them about the issues. Thanks for your suggestions; they pretty
> much confirm that we're on the right course already.


Len,

All of that is good stuff but it doesn't do much to dissuade the local
narcotics team from breaking down my door and tearing my (at this
stage hypothetical) lab apart.

Dan

Julie Norville

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Feb 27, 2009, 4:15:30 PM2/27/09
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If you are building a meth lab or something else with harmful intent, then probably the police should close you down.  However, how can some space for DIYbio people doing non-harmful things be created?

One thing that the public may not realize is that you are not simply going to produce bacteria that produce drugs or do something bad without putting a lot of work into the effort.  This type of effort is certainly criminal activity.

Salis of the synthetic biology community made a nice analogy (please forgive any misquotes that I may make):  You don't make a tank unless you want to make a tank.  You don't add a gun to a vehicle unless you want to have a gun there. There are differences between cars and tanks.  There are biological equivalents of guns and biological equivalents of a gun-free system. Most likely the people who add guns to a system don't do so by accident. 

You can stay away from biological guns by working in a BSL-1 (biosafety level 1) system and by using parts from BSL-1 organisms.  Allowing or encouraging prosecution for people with harmful intent may not be a bad thing.  However, how do you regulate people doing nonharmful things so that they have a space to operate, maybe a kid who is working on a harmless project for his or her science fair project under parental supervision?

Maybe this kid has a non harmful kit of bacteria and nonharmful parts to work with.  Maybe the kid works in a biostudio that ensures that the proper safety practices are followed.  Maybe the kid submits his or her ideas to a DIYbiology advisory board before proceeding with any project. 

Daniel C.

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Feb 27, 2009, 6:10:44 PM2/27/09
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On Fri, Feb 27, 2009 at 2:15 PM, Julie Norville
<julie.e....@gmail.com> wrote:
> There are biological
> equivalents of guns and biological equivalents of a gun-free system.

You and I understand this, and understand that a DIYbio lab is not a
meth lab. I doubt you could even co-opt a DIYbio lab to make meth
without substantial work.

That is not the point or the concern.

The police and average citizenry here aren't likely to be able or
willing to make the distinction between two kinds of home labs - to
them, a lab is a lab, and any lab is a meth lab, because that's what
they hear on the news. So if I get shipments of laboratory equipment,
and someone finds out, they're not going to stop to ask questions -
they're going to call the police. And the police aren't going to stop
by and politely say "Excuse me, sir, could we please look around your
home? We have reason to believe you may be producing illegal drugs
here." They're going to get a search warrant, probably of the
no-knock variety, and they're going to show up in riot gear and kick
in the front door. No amount of personal safety practice in the lab,
careful selection of organisms to work with, and so forth is going to
matter at this point.

The only way to prevent this from happening is to either hide my
activities from my neighbors - which will inevitably make me look
sneaky, because it *would* be sneaky; to openly discuss my activities
with my neighbors, which could explode when one of them misunderstands
or is too scared to understand; or to go directly to the police and
tell them what I'm doing, which brings us right back to the issue of
there being no laws saying it's okay for me to do this, which means
most likely the police will say "It's not illegal but we're gonna have
our eye on you", which is really not what I want either.

All of this is why I think it would be better to go directly to the
lawmakers first.

-DTC

Eric Kelsic

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Feb 27, 2009, 6:17:38 PM2/27/09
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We don't need legislature. Rather, let's try to start DIYbio by
creating a positive public image. Being safe is certainly a part of
that, and there are two aspects of safety: health & environmental.

I agree that most of the work any amateur biologist is going to do
will be harmless from an environmental point of view. I don't worry
much about someone putting GFP into different organisms. As far as
chemical contamination, it's important that people are generally
educated about how to dispose of chemicals, and we probably want to
modify our protocols to use the safest materials possible.
Additionally we may want to promote protocols for doing
transformations and selections without antibiotics.

On the health side, I think it's common sense that people need to be
careful. But I don't think that having a professor or anyone
'qualified' sign off on a lab will be beneficial. A lot of the
regulations for research labs have more to do with liability than with
safety. And just because an professional looks at your lab doesn't
mean you are being safe. Rather, we should have plenty of
documentation and guidelines for safety to prevent any accidents.

I think any legislature would probably be restrictive, and premature
at this point. DIYbio _is_ legal. Probably the best way to mitigate
paranoia is to develop safety guidelines internally (and soon!), and
then to be very open and public about what we are doing and why is it
important and interesting.

DIYbio is a great way to introduce molecular biology to the public. A
few suggestions: don't let your neighbors get suspicious when they see
you buying glassware and lab equipment--invite them to your space and
introduce them to your hobby. Then, make a website to showcase your
experiments.

-Eric

On Feb 27, 4:15 pm, Julie Norville <julie.e.norvi...@gmail.com> wrote:
> If you are building a meth lab or something else with harmful intent, then
> probably the police should close you down.  However, how can some space for
> DIYbio people doing non-harmful things be created?
> One thing that the public may not realize is that you are not simply going
> to produce bacteria that produce drugs or do something bad without putting a
> lot of work into the effort.  This type of effort is certainly criminal
> activity.
>
> Salis of the synthetic biology community made a nice analogy (please forgive
> any misquotes that I may make):  You don't make a tank unless you want to
> make a tank.  You don't add a gun to a vehicle unless you want to have a gun
> there. There are differences between cars and tanks.  There are biological
> equivalents of guns and biological equivalents of a gun-free system. Most
> likely the people who add guns to a system don't do so by accident.
>
> You can stay away from biological guns by working in a BSL-1 (biosafety
> level 1) system and by using parts from BSL-1 organisms.  Allowing or
> encouraging prosecution for people with harmful intent may not be a bad
> thing.  However, how do you regulate people doing nonharmful things so that
> they have a space to operate, maybe a kid who is working on a harmless
> project for his or her science fair project under parental supervision?
>
> Maybe this kid has a non harmful kit of bacteria and nonharmful parts to
> work with.  Maybe the kid works in a biostudio that ensures that the proper
> safety practices are followed.  Maybe the kid submits his or her ideas to a
> DIYbiology advisory board before proceeding with any project.
>

Nick Taylor

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Feb 27, 2009, 6:19:19 PM2/27/09
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> All of that is good stuff but it doesn't do much to dissuade the local
> narcotics team from breaking down my door and tearing my (at this
> stage hypothetical) lab apart.

Maybe getting in touch with your local narcotics team and telling them
what you're about and asking for their help with regards not being
criminal? You could even show them around if they're interested.

At a wider level, drugs should all be decriminalised - starting with the
most dangerous. The more addictive and destructive a drug is, the more
important it is that it's not controlled by organised crime. Simple.

The real problem isn't your lab, it's prohibition.

Daniel C.

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Feb 27, 2009, 6:23:34 PM2/27/09
to diy...@googlegroups.com
On Fri, Feb 27, 2009 at 4:17 PM, Eric Kelsic <kel...@gmail.com> wrote:
> DIYbio is a great way to introduce molecular biology to the public.  A
> few suggestions: don't let your neighbors get suspicious when they see
> you buying glassware and lab equipment--invite them to your space and
> introduce them to your hobby. Then, make a website to showcase your
> experiments.

This is a good suggestion, but it assumes that one is able to
communicate effectively with every neighbor who becomes aware and has
the potential to become suspicious.

On Fri, Feb 27, 2009 at 4:19 PM, Nick Taylor <nick...@googlemail.com> wrote:
> The real problem isn't your lab, it's prohibition.

Agreed, but again, small comfort if things really do go wrong. I
suppose I should have more faith in law enforcement. (Current faith
in the cops: zero, plus or minus two percent.) Maybe if I find out
where they hang out after hours and bring them donuts regularly, I can
convince them not to bite.

-DTC

William Heath

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Feb 27, 2009, 6:27:47 PM2/27/09
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That is the stupidest thing I have heard of.  I am glad you don't like me.

Nick Taylor

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Feb 27, 2009, 6:37:29 PM2/27/09
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I'm sure you could spin your neighbours a white lie (eg: tell them
you're trying to make your own wine)... and I'd go to the police first.
Offer to help them maybe.

like:

Say DIYbio is a new hobby that people are taking up now that the
technology has become available, and by and large, it's just people
experimenting with growing yoghurt - but it might look a bit suspicious
for people who don't know.

Say "
We are a community though - so if you get a report of someone buying
mail-order beakers, chances are we'll know them personally - so if you
get a tip-off, then maybe we can save you the hassle of following
false-leads in advance. We can possibly do a lot of your investigate
leg-work for you.

Josh Perfetto

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Feb 27, 2009, 6:49:32 PM2/27/09
to DIYBio Mailing List, Daniel C.
I think it's going to be very difficult to get legislation enacted for the
purpose of explicitly legalizing DIYBio anytime soon; it's much more likely
that there will be legislation to regulate it. You may look at regulation
as implicit legalization, but it's also a reduction of freedom.

There's really two separate concerns here.

First, there is the need to prepare for and shape regulation on DIYBio, so
that we can have effective regulation which permits DIYBio to be done in an
effective way. Some activities we could do now that might help would be:

1. Establish public examples of DIYBio being done in a safe manner
2. Establish public examples of worthwhile DIYBio projects, so it can be
seen as producing a public good. See the history of Amateur Radio for a
similar situation
3. Establish self-regulation: safety protocols, guidelines, ethics for the
community to follow
4. Identify key lawmakers/parties, reach out to them now and help educate
them
5. Educate the general public of DIYBio, but be careful -- if done
improperly this may accelerate the point of public alarm that will bring
regulation

The second issue really is about a mis-understanding of the situation by law
enforcement. You may not be making a meth lab or doing bio-terrorism, but
if law enforcement thinks you are, you may be faced with a big hassle, even
if you are eventually cleared by a court. Even very good federal regulation
of DIYBio is not going to help you here if your local police think you are
doing something else. I don't know the best approach here, and this is
partly why I established a lab in commercial lab space for the biofuel
Synthetic Biology work that I did. The intelligence of police can vary, and
you see stuff like this on the front page of Digg all the time:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/23/AR2009012302
935.html?hpid=topnews (actually police are not too high on the range:
http://www.iqcomparisonsite.com/Occupations.aspx). Here are some ideas
though:

1. If you live in a place like Texas that has overly-restrictive laws, like
those banning glassware, work to get those changed.
2. If you are sure you are not breaking any laws, perhaps reaching out to
law enforcement, and telling and showing them what you are doing would be a
better choice than not reaching out depending on where you live.
3. If you don't have the resources to establish your own commercial lab
space, form local groups and try to create a collective lab under a
non-profit organization (either one that you form, an existing hacker space,
or with an educational organization).

-Josh

Nick Taylor

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Feb 27, 2009, 6:53:00 PM2/27/09
to diy...@googlegroups.com

> Agreed, but again, small comfort if things really do go wrong. I
> suppose I should have more faith in law enforcement. (Current faith
> in the cops: zero, plus or minus two percent.) Maybe if I find out
> where they hang out after hours and bring them donuts regularly, I can
> convince them not to bite.


Yea, I'm British. On the whole our police are very good people people.

The only altercation I've had with an American cop (in LA. I drove out
of the car-hire lot, out onto the road... up to the lights and was
immediately pulled over) was entirely reassuring. He was a really nice
bloke... drew me a little map and was very friendly etc.


JonathanCline

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Feb 27, 2009, 8:10:14 PM2/27/09
to DIYbio
On Feb 27, 12:04 pm, "Daniel C." <dcrooks...@gmail.com> wrote:
> All of that is good stuff but it doesn't do much to dissuade the local
> narcotics team from breaking down my door and tearing my (at this
> stage hypothetical) lab apart.
>
> Dan

Are there regulations in your state & city for microbrewing beer with
yeast? I believe these laws vary between states. Is there a way you
can "register" yourself as a home microbrewer? Or home canner? Does
your residence allow for any commercial activity? (Nevermind that
you're genetically engineering the microbes and nevermind that
microbiology equipment is also involved.) This could explain at
least some of what you're doing to anyone who looks at the lab. You
probably want to let your neighbors know some aspect of your hobby as
well (who else would call something in?).

Other aspects of your perceived "guilt" if it were ever to happen
could include: whether or not you have certain educational texts
around (i.e. "Homebrewing for Dummies" might count positively, and
"Anarchist's Cookbook" would count negatively), cleanliness/
organization of the materials, nearby computers (containing nothing
interesting vs. archiving 'punk stuff), quantities of the materials
you have ("I bought this 500lb bag of nitrogen rich fertilizer because
it was on-sale" is not a good idea), a business license (for anything)
on the wall, etc.

If you keep a baseball bat in the trunk of your car, it's a weapon and
considered criminal depending on circumstance (in some states) and can
be immediately placed under suspicion of "doing something, we don't
know what, though it's something bad". If the trunk of the car has
both a baseball bat plus a baseball glove, you're just playing
sports. The difference is in the perception of your intended actions.


## Jonathan Cline
## jcl...@ieee.org
## Mobile: +1-805-617-0223
########################

William Heath

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Feb 27, 2009, 8:13:07 PM2/27/09
to diy...@googlegroups.com
For some reason this thread is making me think of the next big revolution in technology manipulation of quantum particles to produce novel things.  Imagine safety precautions against black holes etc.. :>

-Tim

DS

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Feb 28, 2009, 6:24:15 PM2/28/09
to DIYbio
I agree with Nick -- outreach is probably the best way to assuage the
concerns of law enforcement. In addition to the safety manual, it
might be useful to devise some easy-to-ready outreach materials to
share with the local public health department (and local constabulary
if you're in area where the illicit drug trade is an issue).
Something that describes the parameters of your work, the intended
output (experimental data only or cultures) and how you plan to safely
dispose of any waste or byproducts.

Over the longer term, this group might want to think about inviting
officials from the Department of Health and Human Services, Department
of Agricutlure and FBI to attend a DIYbio conference. It is a good
way to appear proactive in the eyes of would-be regulators and build
contacts with the political and policy communities.

Len Sassaman

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Feb 28, 2009, 7:43:56 PM2/28/09
to DIYbio
On Sat, 28 Feb 2009, DS wrote:

> Over the longer term, this group might want to think about inviting
> officials from the Department of Health and Human Services, Department
> of Agricutlure and FBI to attend a DIYbio conference. It is a good
> way to appear proactive in the eyes of would-be regulators and build
> contacts with the political and policy communities.

CodeCon has a DIYbio "track" this year; I'm not sure, but this may be the
highly regarded, established conference with a strong reputation in
software engineering expanding its notions of "coding/programming/hacking"
to include wetware bio work -- I hope others follow, since the synergistic
overlap of the two expected audience pools is reason enough to do this,
for me.

But I hereby invite anyone with an interest in DIYbio to come to CodeCon,
and I'd love to see our civil servants attending events like this to
better learn about what they're making decisions about. If you have anyone
in mind as far as the Department of Health and Human Services, Department
of Agriculture, etc., who would be likely to find a DIYbio conference
interesting, please forward them the call for papers:

http://www.codecon.org/2009/cfp.txt

... which describes the conference fairly well (and there is quite a lot
on the 'net about the conference from third-party sources from past years,
though aside from Meredith's now legendary DNA purification using common
household items and a salad spinner I borrowed for her the night before
her talk, after she told me "I need to make my talk longer; I could purify
DNA with meat tenderizer, shampoo, salt, and rubbing alcohol -- I just
need a centrifuge", we haven't had any DIYbio presentations.)

Information for the curious:

* You should be able to buy tickets soon -- once the new site launches,
which should be days ago. ;)

* We're still taking sponsorships, from our traditional software sponsors,
though we'd love to see involvement from both software companies in the
bioinformatics space, and biotech companies that would like to see quality
conferences for DIYbio emerge; the harsh truth is that for many
conferences, they can't survive without sponsors willing to support them.
If you can put us in touch with biotech companies interested in
sponsorship, please do!

* It's right before the RSA Conference (the big information security trade
show) that brings a lot of security-oriented people into town. These
people focus on threat modeling for a living, so having them in the
audience is always good when general software is being discussed; I
suspect it will be fruitful for DIYbio safety and risk reduction too. But
if you're one of the people who goes to that event, you can just come out
for the weekend before RSA week, and you've got CodeCon covered (starting
on that Friday.)

* The CodeCon crew will be looking for volunteers, and if you're
interested, mail codec...@codecon.org and let us know what you'd like
to help with, (or what skills you have, so that by telling us of them, you
can help us help you help us.)


***Submission deadline is the end of this weekend, so if you've got biybio
projects you want to share with an interested audience who both wants to
learn as well as help, even if they're in a very early state, send them
in. Basic requirements for presenters:

We require that something critical to your project be working well enough
to have a demo (i.e., if you plan to do this neat big idea with these four
major smaller ideas, and you've got one of those four done and demoable,
and that one smaller idea is interesting and novel, submit it even though
the full project isn't done. When BitTorrent debuted at the first CodeCon,
it only had ever had a few hundred people use it, total.)

You've got to be a key developer on the project, have a working demo (not
vaporware), and an interesting project to present. If you think you've got
something, please send it in!

tyso...@gmail.com

unread,
Mar 1, 2009, 12:48:26 PM3/1/09
to DIYbio
>"What's to prevent someone from
> registering a home lab as a DIYbio lab and then making meth or other
> drugs in it?"

In reality, very little. But then again any competent chemist can turn
kitchen cookware into a meth lab as well. I remember an Airman who had
set up his wall locker as a lab with some surprisingly simple parts,
hint it included a crockpot. The simple fact of the matter is that
human behavior is intensely difficult to control. And our attempts at
regulation do far more harm than good. However, because we can't
simply wish this to go away, the fact of the matter is that the two
types of labs often use very different forms of equipment,
Thermocyclers as opposed to bunsen burners or crockpots, and few
methlabs have an electroporator or gel electrophoresis machine. Also i
imagine Ether being conspicuously absent in your average DIY lab.

> What are the most serious safety concerns that are likely to come up
> in a DIYbio lab?  (like human cloning,
> experimentation on ebola, or other more subtle things I'm not thinking

Some of the most pertinent concerns will be the release of
experimental organisms which out compete "natural" ones, the fear of
creation of drugs, or drug like substances, disease outbreak, and
chemical contamination. As for human cloning the sophistication of the
techniques are usually well beyond the kind of labs we can muster.
Diseases like Ebola are not exactly available at the local five and
dime either. Instead access to them is strictly regulated already.
However the release of organisms into the general area or public may
very well happen, although they are often unable to compete with what
nature has already produced, Meredith shared a lovely analogy with me
about this if she would care to repeat it. But with appropriate saftey
measures and proper lab technique these problems can be obviated or
avoided.
The same holds true with chemical contamination risks.

> For the last category - perceived risks that are actually not risks at
> all - what are they likely to be and how can I best explain that they
> are actually safe?  (One thing I do plan to point out is that to some
> extent it's impossible to make some of these things illegal because if
> you did, you would also be making bathrooms illegal.)

See above please.


> What level of regulation, oversight, and (basically) govt. intrusion
> into our labs do we feel is acceptable?  Is it reasonable to ask
> DIYbioers to register their labs with their city or state prior to
> conducting certain kinds of procedures, or storing/working with
> certain chemicals or organisms?  If so, where should the line be
> drawn?

Ideally none, but since we must live within the confines of a real
world we will most likely find ourselves saddled with some
legislation. However I am afraid I cannot back down from my point of
view. By increasing this sort of legislation we will end up on a
slippery slope, just what kind of science is acceptable for who? It
will relegate the pursuit of objective truth to the world of academia
and place the stars out of mans reach, despite how he should buck at
the reigns. I would actively lobby to make sure that our lines of
inquiry our to be our own. Where shall we say that science has become
illegal. Surely homebrewing beer is not illegal

GD time limits, you havent heard the last of me on this.

bye

Nick Taylor

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Mar 2, 2009, 1:14:22 AM3/2/09
to diy...@googlegroups.com

> However, because we can't simply wish this to go away, the fact of
> the matter is that the two types of labs often use very different
> forms of equipment, Thermocyclers as opposed to bunsen burners or
> crockpots, and few methlabs have an electroporator or gel
> electrophoresis machine. Also i imagine Ether being conspicuously
> absent in your average DIY lab.


Really? I'd heard that it was possible to engineer certain bacterium to
synthesise methamphetamines and electrophoresis was quite an effective
way of separating them from the others because they tend to move a lot
more quickly?

Daniel C.

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Mar 2, 2009, 2:06:15 AM3/2/09
to diy...@googlegroups.com
On Sun, Mar 1, 2009 at 11:14 PM, Nick Taylor <nick...@googlemail.com> wrote:
> Really? I'd heard that it was possible to engineer certain bacterium to
> synthesise methamphetamines and electrophoresis was quite an effective
> way of separating them from the others because they tend to move a lot
> more quickly?

Amusing. However, being personally acquainted with more than one law
enforcement official, I suspect the reaction upon seeing a DIYbio lab
would be more along the lines of "Wuts all dis science (expletive)?
You a Islam er summin' boy? Terr'ist? I dun wanna hear it! Yer
commin' wif me."

That may be a very slight exaggeration, but only just. I once had a
state trooper complain to me that "I don't see these Muslim's doin'
anything for Easter." No, really!?

DS

unread,
Mar 2, 2009, 9:03:10 AM3/2/09
to DIYbio
I'd caution against overly pessimistic attitudes toward (at least)
federal law enforcement. They have been working really hard to keep
up with advances in biotechnology and changes in what is referred to
as the 'risk environment.' I have personally found them very open-
minded and willing to engage in dialogue. I can't comment about
whether the same could be said about state and local police, but I
imagine they are too occupied with higher priority issues (drugs,
gangs, etc) to be bothered with DIYbio.


On Mar 2, 2:06 am, "Daniel C." <dcrooks...@gmail.com> wrote:

EJ

unread,
Mar 2, 2009, 11:27:55 AM3/2/09
to DIYbio
Unfortunately I think the biggest problem is with the average Joe, who
has a deep-seated mistrust of science in general and genetic
engineering in particular. Witness all the "no GMO" labels on foods
these days, as if that made them safer for human consumption. The
scary part of working with living organisms (as opposed to building an
explosives lab in your garage, or a rocket launcher) is that they
might somehow "escape" and terrorize the planet. That's what the
average person feels, I gurantee it. Until we manage to educate the
public, I think most folks will be opposed to "amateurs" tinkering
with "life", and that will drive regulation. That's actually the most
compelling argument (to me, at least) FOR the DIY bio movement. If we
can get enough folks involved and educated and not run screaming from
anything that has to do with putting genes into organisms, I think
that would help a lot. So I hope that all this stays under the
regulatory radar for awhile, until we can get more folks involved.
> > anything for Easter."  No, really!?- Hide quoted text -
>
> - Show quoted text -

Julie Norville

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Mar 2, 2009, 12:19:22 PM3/2/09
to diy...@googlegroups.com
I will say here as I did on a few other posts that DIYbio has the
opportunity to help make the US safer by screening for bad bacteria in
the food and water supplies (in a BioWeatherMaps 2.0 type venture.).
Right now bad bacteria is likely to be caused by inadvertent
contamination like the Salmonella in peanut butter incident. However,
this is a case where the decentralized and enthusiastic network of
citizen scientists could be of real benefit and even save lives.

Sequencing DNA from foodstuffs might be one way to do this, but there
also may be cheaper ways. By providing community service like this,
your neighbor or local police officer may want your help rather than
wanting to shut you down. There are a number of community service
activities that DIYbiologists can pursue, including helping interest
young kids in science at the schools. DIYbiologists could be
volunteer members of university iGEM teams. These activities have the
potential to demonstrate the value of DIYbio to the wider community.

tyso...@gmail.com

unread,
Mar 2, 2009, 2:01:18 PM3/2/09
to DIYbio
Ideally none, but since we must live within the confines of a real
world we will most likely find ourselves saddled with some
legislation. However I am afraid I cannot back down from my point of
view. By increasing this sort of legislation we will end up on a
slippery slope, just what kind of science is acceptable for who? It
will relegate the pursuit of objective truth to the world of academia
and place the stars out of mans reach, despite how he should buck at
the reigns. I would actively lobby to make sure that our lines of
inquiry our to be our own. Where shall we say that science has become
illegal. Surely homebrewing beer is not illegal. Why then should
taking a closer look at the beasties that do our work, or making one
that has a higher tolerance to toxic, ie alcohol filled, environs.

>What level of regulation, oversight, and (basically) govt. intrusion
>into our labs do we feel is acceptable?

While as I have said, I decry the thought of having government stick
its nose where it doesn't belong, it is useless to kvetch about a
future which shows all signs of becoming real without offering a
solution. Therefore I offer a three pronged approach to this, first,
an initial inspection of the lab, a submission of what chemicals are
being used, and posting of hazard signs to let people know where they
need to be careful, I'm not talking about huge lawn placards.

I feel that these would constitute reasonable measures of intrusion
and provide for the safety of the general public without compromising
the security of a persons home. Although we might take the time to
consider instead of how we defend the precious dissapearing privacy we
have left, and figure out how to take the fight and push back big
government to where it was when we started this nation, but that is a
tale for another time.

It would seem to me, with all the talk of needing to self regulate,
that we should try and set down some hard rules.
I think that an inspection by a competent lab authority seems to be a
popular idea. so let us set that as rule 1

All in favor?

EJ

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Mar 2, 2009, 3:37:14 PM3/2/09
to DIYbio
Who gets to define a "competent authority"? I've had some crazy-ass
PhD labmates in my time, including one whose living quarters consisted
of an old mattress stashed on the unused top floor of a lab building,
and one whose office was found stuffed with wine bottles, viagra, and
porno mags after he was laid off.

Daniel C.

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Mar 2, 2009, 3:44:24 PM3/2/09
to diy...@googlegroups.com
On Mon, Mar 2, 2009 at 1:37 PM, EJ <ellenjo...@aol.com> wrote:
> Who gets to define a "competent authority"? I've had some crazy-ass
> PhD labmates in my time, including one whose living quarters consisted
> of an old mattress stashed on the unused top floor of a lab building,
> and one whose office was found stuffed with wine bottles, viagra, and
> porno mags after he was laid off.

Just because they're insane and/or slobs doesn't mean they can't
recognize safe laboratory procedures. Also, you can now tell people
that you used to work with a genuine Mad Scientist. Always look on
the bright side!

-DTC

Nick Taylor

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Mar 2, 2009, 6:51:54 PM3/2/09
to diy...@googlegroups.com

>> Who gets to define a "competent authority"? I've had some crazy-ass
>> PhD labmates in my time, including one whose living quarters consisted
>> of an old mattress stashed on the unused top floor of a lab building,
>> and one whose office was found stuffed with wine bottles, viagra, and
>> porno mags after he was laid off.
>
> Just because they're insane and/or slobs doesn't mean they can't
> recognize safe laboratory procedures. Also, you can now tell people
> that you used to work with a genuine Mad Scientist. Always look on
> the bright side!


Yea well, intelligent people are stupid in intelligent ways. I've had
enough conversations with people on this very list to convince me that
the human-factor is an open-window through which bugs may come and go at
will.

There's safety and there's perceived safety... and given that your
biggest problems are always likely to be "other people", then perceived
safety ought not be trivialised.

A couple of months back on Digg, a story turned up where a genetically
engineered organism could have "killed every plant on the planet". I
expect you know the one - the one that created oil.

So how do you answer to that?


Nick

Daniel C.

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Mar 2, 2009, 6:54:16 PM3/2/09
to diy...@googlegroups.com
On Mon, Mar 2, 2009 at 4:51 PM, Nick Taylor <nick...@googlemail.com> wrote:
> A couple of months back on Digg, a story turned up where a genetically
> engineered organism could have "killed every plant on the planet". I
> expect you know the one - the one that created oil.
>
> So how do you answer to that?

By downmodding the story and moving on with life? That's how I
usually answer them ;-)

Nick Taylor

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Mar 2, 2009, 7:03:08 PM3/2/09
to diy...@googlegroups.com


LOL. Retard.

JonathanCline

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Mar 2, 2009, 9:16:14 PM3/2/09