Ellen Jorgensen: Biohacking — you can do it, too

Ellen Jorgensen: Biohacking — you can do it, too

Translator: Joseph Geni
Reviewer: Morton Bast It’s a great time to be a molecular biologist. (Laughter) Reading and writing DNA code is getting easier and cheaper. By the end of this year, we’ll be able to sequence the three million bits of information in your genome in less than a day and for less than 1,000 euros. Biotech is probably the most powerful and the fastest-growing technology sector. It has the power, potentially, to replace our fossil fuels, to revolutionize medicine, and to touch every aspect of our daily lives. So who gets to do it? I think we’d all be pretty comfortable with this guy doing it. But what about that guy? (Laughter) (Laughter) In 2009, I first heard about DIYbio. It’s a movement that — it advocates making biotechnology accessible to everyone, not just scientists and people in government labs. The idea is that if you open up the science and you allow diverse groups to participate, it could really stimulate innovation. Putting technology in the hands of the end user is usually a good idea because they’ve got the best idea of what their needs are. And here’s this really sophisticated technology coming down the road, all these associated social, moral, ethical questions, and we scientists are just lousy at explaining to the public just exactly what it is we’re doing in those labs. So wouldn’t it be nice if there was a place in your local neighborhood where you could go and learn about this stuff, do it hands-on? I thought so. So, three years ago, I got together with some friends of mine who had similar aspirations and we founded Genspace. It’s a nonprofit, a community biotech lab in Brooklyn, New York, and the idea was people could come, they could take classes and putter around in the lab in a very open, friendly atmosphere. None of my previous experience prepared me for what came next. Can you guess? The press started calling us. And the more we talked about how great it was to increase science literacy, the more they wanted to talk about us creating the next Frankenstein, and as a result, for the next six months, when you Googled my name, instead of getting my scientific papers, you got this. [“Am I a biohazard?”] (Laughter) It was pretty depressing. The only thing that got us through that period was that we knew that all over the world, there were other people that were trying to do the same thing that we were. They were opening biohacker spaces, and some of them were facing much greater challenges than we did, more regulations, less resources. But now, three years later, here’s where we stand. It’s a vibrant, global community of hackerspaces, and this is just the beginning. These are some of the biggest ones, and there are others opening every day. There’s one probably going to open up in Moscow, one in South Korea, and the cool thing is they each have their own individual flavor that grew out of the community they came out of. Let me take you on a little tour. Biohackers work alone. We work in groups, in big cities — (Laughter) — and in small villages. We reverse engineer lab equipment. We genetically engineer bacteria. We hack hardware, software, wetware, and, of course, the code of life. We like to build things. Then we like to take things apart. We make things grow. We make things glow. And we make cells dance. The spirit of these labs, it’s open, it’s positive, but, you know, sometimes when people think of us, the first thing that comes to mind is bio-safety, bio-security, all the dark side stuff. I’m not going to minimize those concerns. Any powerful technology is inherently dual use, and, you know, you get something like synthetic biology, nanobiotechnology, it really compels you, you have to look at both the amateur groups but also the professional groups, because they have better infrastructure, they have better facilities, and they have access to pathogens. So the United Nations did just that, and they recently issued a report on this whole area, and what they concluded was the power of this technology for positive was much greater than the risk for negative, and they even looked specifically at the DIYbio community, and they noted, not surprisingly, that the press had a tendency to consistently overestimate our capabilities and underestimate our ethics. As a matter of fact, DIY people from all over the world, America, Europe, got together last year, and we hammered out a common code of ethics. That’s a lot more than conventional science has done. Now, we follow state and local regulations. We dispose of our waste properly, we follow safety procedures, we don’t work with pathogens. You know, if you’re working with a pathogen, you’re not part of the biohacker community, you’re part of the bioterrorist community, I’m sorry. And sometimes people ask me, “Well, what about an accident?” Well, working with the safe organisms that we normally work with, the chance of an accident happening with somebody accidentally creating, like, some sort of superbug, that’s literally about as probable as a snowstorm in the middle of the Sahara Desert. Now, it could happen, but I’m not going to plan my life around it. I’ve actually chosen to take a different kind of risk. I signed up for something called the Personal Genome Project. It’s a study at Harvard where, at the end of the study, they’re going to take my entire genomic sequence, all of my medical information, and my identity, and they’re going to post it online for everyone to see. There were a lot of risks involved that they talked about during the informed consent portion. The one I liked the best is, someone could download my sequence, go back to the lab, synthesize some fake Ellen DNA, and plant it at a crime scene. (Laughter) But like DIYbio, the positive outcomes and the potential for good for a study like that far outweighs the risk. Now, you might be asking yourself, “Well, you know, what would I do in a biolab?” Well, it wasn’t that long ago we were asking, “Well, what would anyone do with a personal computer?” So this stuff is just beginning. We’re only seeing just the tip of the DNA iceberg. Let me show you what you could do right now. A biohacker in Germany, a journalist, wanted to know whose dog was leaving little presents on his street? (Laughter) (Applause) Yep, you guessed it. He threw tennis balls to all the neighborhood dogs, analyzed the saliva, identified the dog, and confronted the dog owner. (Laughter) (Applause) I discovered an invasive species in my own backyard. Looked like a ladybug, right? It actually is a Japanese beetle. And the same kind of technology — it’s called DNA barcoding, it’s really cool — You can use it to check if your caviar is really beluga, if that sushi is really tuna, or if that goat cheese that you paid so much for is really goat’s. In a biohacker space, you can analyze your genome for mutations. You can analyze your breakfast cereal for GMO’s, and you can explore your ancestry. You can send weather balloons up into the stratosphere, collect microbes, see what’s up there. You can make a biocensor out of yeast to detect pollutants in water. You can make some sort of a biofuel cell. You can do a lot of things. You can also do an art science project. Some of these are really spectacular, and they look at social, ecological problems from a completely different perspective. It’s really cool. Some people ask me, well, why am I involved? I could have a perfectly good career in mainstream science. The thing is, there’s something in these labs that they have to offer society that you can’t find anywhere else. There’s something sacred about a space where you can work on a project, and you don’t have to justify to anyone that it’s going to make a lot of money, that it’s going to save mankind, or even that it’s feasible. It just has to follow safety guidelines. If you had spaces like this all over the world, it could really change the perception of who’s allowed to do biotech. It’s spaces like these that spawned personal computing. Why not personal biotech? If everyone in this room got involved, who knows what we could do? This is such a new area, and as we say back in Brooklyn, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. (Laughter) (Applause)

Author: Kennedi Daugherty

100 thoughts on “Ellen Jorgensen: Biohacking — you can do it, too

  1. Yeah, fantastic very powerful presentation with NYC accent. Things she talking about a really fascinating – this is indeed a beginning of something big. And indeed we HAVE to pursue this quest – being ethical along the way. And I'd love to have my genome decoded. To learn what's up with my health risks/heredity and be preventive.

  2. It's a little disturbing how even TED talks tend to chronically keep underrepresenting minority/colored women. Basic progressive policy is to prioritize the underprivileged. Yet the very women in society who suffer the most from the pressures of the religious right and who lack social mobility most often are, time and again, being sidelined in favor of middle-upper class white females.

    We're in the year 2013. Something about this mentality is really worrying.

  3. Nice try but you fail. All the important infrastructure in the world runs linux and other open source os'es. If anything it's an even more attractive target than windows. Who cares abour your pc when you could potentially take out the entire country's worth of networking? Plus there are between 1 and 2 % desktop users as well. And yet to quote wiki 'the entire list of Linux viruses and worms [is] fewer than thirty. Compare that to the estimated 140,000 viruses for Windows'.

  4. Because servers are much more hardened targets, generally, than Average Joe who surfs the Internet willynilly.

    In any case, you said that viri are what you get with a closed OS. Well, clearly that is not the case. There ARE Linux viri. Also, who said anything about "taking out" systems? A "good" virus doesn't harm the host- that's child's play. A good piece of malware will siphon data and/or performance for a botnet, not destroy.

  5. Definitely not true. I've seen plenty of mission-critical servers running windows rather than a minimal and hardened version of linux/unix. That being said, Windows Server is much more secure than it used to be and your average corporate Windows Server isn't susceptible to everything a Windows PC is susceptible to.

  6. So I bet you think that TED talks should practice affirmative action and make sure that no one exceeds their quotas for acceptable black/brown/white/asian male/female speakers in order to force equality over content? We can have a perfectly even split, and if god-forbid there are more white, asian, and brown men in science who want to give talks than other identifiable groups, then they can't because it will upset the balance.

  7. Thank you for underscoring my point. Right-wing policies prioritize the sensitivities of the privileged over the needs of the underprivileged, which often result in incoherent ramblings such as your own.

    The most tragic example of how far this irrational behavior can go is currently seen in the Republican Party in the United States, who are willing to hold the economy of their entire nation hostage just to safeguard the top wealthiest 1% from wholly unnecessary tax brakes.

  8. Just a few seconds into the video and already she's making a mistake. The human genome is 3 billion base pairs, not 3 million.

  9. This discussion has, however, nothing to do with taxes. You do yourself a disfavor when you ignore the point david0aloha makes, because regardless of whether or not you agree with him you have to answer: should people be "prioritized" because of their skin colour/race/gender/sexuality, or because they have something interesting to do? You could of course argue for both and I wouldn't accuse you of being wrong, but if you start a discussion you should be prepared to finish it.

  10. This is a common red herring employed by the right-wing. The emphasis is not on skincolor, race, gender or sexuality, but on privileged vs underprivileged.

    If we find that both the privileged and the underprivileged both consistently feature a certain skincolor, than this adds a clear element of racism to the equation.

  11. But if only the privileged (or the other way around) consistently feature a certain skincolor, it's not racism? You're still striving for even piles of all "underprivileged" people (which by your distiction still is defined by color/sex/whatever) and also going as far as to claim that when the piles aren't even, then it's racist. You're calling all individuals of certain types underprivileged, completely ignoring their lives and background. It's usually alot more complicated than mere bigotry.

  12. I think it's brilliant…Biohacking presents opportunities for rebel synergies and I agree that science shouldn't be so elitist…

  13. You're talking like Lenin: "factories to workers, lands to peasants". As we all know, all aristocrats were executed and a communist Soviet Union was built, where all were "equal". The main fault was that you can't artificially equalize people. Any kind of privileges leads to racism, hatred etc. Why it is so hard to understand that all people over the world are equal? We all have conscious mind, and only we decide who we are: free or underprivileged. It's not about race, it's about self esteem.

  14. This type of reactionary argument serves to apologize for social injustice. It's very telling that you symphatize with the rich and the privileged.

    Unfortunately, the sole reason the rich and the privileged have what they have is because of what the underprivileged helped build for them through their labor. Therefore, a fair share for all involved is an ethical inevitability.

    I realize this may be hard to grasp for someone who is the product of the American educational system. 🙂

  15. Heheh. Having a social consciousness and raising social awareness is the polar opposite of indifference, apathy and favoring the status quo.

    That reactionaries dread even the prospect of change is nothing new. 🙂

  16. So essentially I believe that those who have the most value should offer that value because I believe that will bring the best to society.

    You believe that those who don't yet have much to offer should be given the chance to offer value because that will bring the best to society. I don't disagree that it's a nice idea, but the practical result is that you have less value and more mediocrity for everybody – in which case everyone loses. Expression and innovation are diminished.

  17. Instead we should be providing opportunities for EVERYONE to do great things. People need help and support, but it shouldn't be doled out based upon class, race, or sex. The best support comes from family and friends – we evolved that way, to identify with and be most appreciative of support from our close social networks.

  18. 1. "Prioritize the underprivileged" – logical paradox.
    2. Such radical statements, as yours, have never lead to anything good (according to human history).
    3. My whole family earned 6000$ for last year and that was enough to live good, eat, clothe for a whole year.
    4. I don't feel poor or underprivileged.
    5. Most of the problems and human suffering came from the people who obsessed with material things.
    6. You equalize "money" and "privileges".

  19. 7. There still is some kind of slavery in this world, but the global economy doesn't work such way.
    8. Your communist ideas are great, but they're utopian and never worked at all. And also such ideas have built whole bunch of fascist regimes around the world (great utopian ideas became the instrument to blur peoples eyes, while building dictatorship). You may have the same purpose.
    9. Why do all neo-communisits have word "sex" in their nick names? (you aren't the first one).

  20. 10. Post-soviet educational system :-).
    11. Self education is the best education and, also, it's the only one which really educate.
    12. I haven't ever been in any part of America, yet.
    13. Yes, there is unequality in this world, but not in TED talks.
    14. We have history in order to watch our previous mistakes in order to avoid them in future. (in my last comment I only mentioned Lenin, but there are much more examples).
    15. Racial quotas are one of the most racist things in this world.

  21. 16. People watch TED talks to get new interesting ideas and to get inspired.
    17. Ellen was talking about biology, not about race, privileges or money.
    18. Make a great research on inequality also invent ways to avoid it in future, then go to the TED, and we would listen to you with pleasure.
    19. You want to catch attenion.
    20. You may have a good goal, but now you make people feel bad while they read your provocative comments.
    21. Privileges wouldn't make anyone better, it's all about our mind.

  22. Only if you also piss off someone with access, knowledge, and ability to use a DNA synthesizer, and the technique to create human DNA from that has yet to be created. A full genome synthesis has only been done on a small bacterium, mycoplasma laboratorium, which is only 1/6 the size of human DNA and is structured differently from human DNA.

    To my knowledge, none of the challenges have been tackled yet (though they are being worked on).

  23. There is no logical consistency to your arguments. As stated, that is not surprising coming from someone who is the product of the American educational system.

    Your country is seeing the worst gaps in income distribution & the worst inequality in decades, your infrastructure is crumbling before your eyes and your educational levels are reminiscent of a developing nation rather than an industrialized one.

    Your mentality offers much insight into the how & why of that miserable state of affairs.

  24. How do you know they are underrepresenting minority/colored women? Do you have a list of colored women who are more qualified in this same area of study?
    All I hear is the race card being played, and I'm tired of it. People like yourself need to quit worrying so much about race and focus more on the content.

  25. Let me guess: "Anti-racism is code for anti-white"? I've heard it all before from you conservative nuts.

    It's easy to willfully ignore assymetric situations when they are in your favor. To us Westerners, everything looks neutral because we are blind to our own privileges. If you were to have a romantic relationship with someone who very much so came from an underprivileged background, your views on these issues would change dramatically as well.

  26. Wow, first you make a strawman quoting something no one said, claim to know my political view, assume I'm not a Westerner, and then make a hypothetical situation to prove your point?

    I don't know if you enjoy typing just because it makes you feel smart but you still havn't addressed why TED is being racist.

    TED has a shitload of people from all different cultures talk. Quit bitching about color when you obviously are missing the entire point of the video and TED in general.

  27. Looks like I hit quite a nerve.

    The social criticism I'm making is actually unrelated to racism as such. Rather, it's about privileged vs underprivileged. If people belonging to the privileged group are consistently found to feature the same skincolor, however, they should reflect on this.

    If they don't do this on their own initiative, it is up to progressives to force the issue on the agenda. We disagree because you defend the status quo, whereas I represent change.

  28. No, I represent actually earning what you get instead of playing the race card to lower the bar.

    And you *are* making it a race issue when you say "TED talks tend to chronically keep underrepresenting minority/colored women".

    Also, TED is a privately owned establishment, so your whole "it is up to progressives to force the issue on the agenda" is completely unfounded.

    Speaking of hitting a nerve, I'm not the one spamming the channel every day with content unrelated to the video shown.


  29. It is maybe pointless to make a dialog with you, but I really proud of my education. I am fluent at 4 foreign languages (russian, english, german and polish), I am very good at math (algebra, geometry, discrete math, applied math), physics, electronics, programming, hardware design, computer networking and many other things like logic and boolean algebra. I've got all of this for free. And there are also thousands of students from Africa, Middle East and China studying in my country.

  30. It's pointless, he maybe have brain tumor or something) He is like a generator of random stupidity. He has never read any of our comments and he still continue to spread his stupid radical ideas. This all is just telling about some kind of mental disorder.

  31. Unintentional comedy at its finest.

    The needs of the underprivileged weigh more heavily than the sensitivities of the privileged–at least to anyone who has a hint of a social conscience. Your behavior is about as devoid of any empathy for the others as one would expect from a sociopath.

  32. @6:55

    This example is way out of date, which might be why she used it. It actually was/is a real-world concern… not a speculative or imagined future concern. However a company from Israel called Nucleix Ltd has come up with an authentication process that's very hard to fool. Basically, they analyze the pattern of Methylation across several DNA samples. Real DNA is methylated and unmethylated in patterns unique to your environmental history. Fake DNA is unmethylated, or the pattern won't match

  33. Imagine, in the future some morally skewed entrepreneur is gonna be selling "success-proved" athletes, quantum physicist, etc etc DNA to parents. Then comes celeb-dna then DNAgonewild and other weird sites

  34. I enjoy these TED talk video's and I'm pleased that YouTube shows them!
    That said how do I an average Joe get started in this DIY biohacking?…..It sound very interesting….and could be the forerunner of Dr's McCoy and Crushers technologies from the Star Trek TV shows.

  35. Interesting intro to biohacking, touching on some of the pros and cons of DIY bio. Like the home computing geeks revolutionized that field and the home brewers began the craft/ microbrewery movement, DIY bio holds a lot of promise, for good or ill.

  36. The left-wing, however, give out affirmative action tripe and pass unconstitutional laws such as VAWA, which are set out to divide the people. Both are just as bad as one-another and the only politician in the world I have any confidence in is good ol' Ron Paul.

  37. That is a misrepresentation of the facts. Affirmative action is simply a response–it seeks to counter the prejudice and the discrimination which sabotage notions such as equality before the law or equal opportunity for all citizens.

    If a rational and logical measure such as this provokes division, then it is only because people with far-right/racist views are forced to drop their masks of sanity and reveal themselves precisely for what they are–dangerous and unstable lunatics.

  38. Right, so making laws like VAWA, essentially positive discrimination in favour of women, as a form of affirmative action is good? If you want equality, do it properly, don't make women "more" equal. Instead, view it from a humanist viewpoint.

    Really, Libertarianism, generally a right-wing viewpoint seems the least biased and the least corporate money-grabbing of the lot. Being a liberal means you're just as corrupt as the republicans, but at least they know it.

    Liberals are dangerous (cont)

  39. because their "liberalism" generally means promoting larger governments with more and more regulations, less and less freedom and less and less control, more thought control and more and more positive discrimination.

    Do you favour laws like VAWA that are unconstitutionally sexist and claims men = perpetrators, victims = women? If not, then you're sensible and not a dangerous and deluded person. We need VAHA, not VAWA, we're all equal.

    You can't be a humanist and a liberal.

  40. Notice how vague you are about what constitutes "doing it properly".

    Criticizing is easy. Coming up with viable alternatives less so. In the meantime, minority/colored women in particular continue to be deprived of equal opportunity, with all the damage to their self-confidence and social mobility that comes with this.

    It's not difficult to see why racist Western women and their white supremacist concubines seek to maintain this status quo for as long as possible. But change is coming.

  41. Yes and thank fuck it won't be from the liberals with job quotas and positive discrimination.

    I've given the alternative, gender and race neutral laws, no need for VAWA, give us VAPA or VAHA…

  42. Got us here a smart troll ppl, watch out! Ur no diff then those u label. My bad, they probably labeled u 1st right? Ur trash and any1 arguing with u here is wasting their time. Ppl like u don't even belong near anything like Ted or 2045 congress. Ur the opposite side of the same bad coin, a bigot and a waste; who's only contribution is turning the table; revenge, precision hatred in a twisted form of Justice; being some1 bitter'd by life, living on a crutch and flashing a victim card. Dangerous

  43. All I'm saying is that you're just looking for conflict.
    You're clearly just some troll so I'm going to leave it at this.

  44. That's because you 1) do not understand the nature of social activism, and 2) are characterized by a lack of solidarity for the disadvantaged.

    This may be a truly alien concept to you, but there are people who simply refuse to place the sensitivities of the privileged before the needs of the underprivileged. If this debate is provocative, all the better. That means the issue is being actively debated and pondered, rather than being swept under the carpet.

  45. Perhaps there's one heck of a misunderstanding here but I am referring to your comment in which you claim the black/white ratio in TED's videos is unrighteous.
    I see you keep putting effort in your responses so I won't insult you directly as someone a while ago did.
    You are talking about priviliged vs. underpriviliged but has it ever occured to you that they make it like that themselves?
    Or are you going to blame the white and rich indefinitely like it's your personal crusade? It seems that way.

  46. Your comments are basically a laundry list of right-wing red herrings and stereotypes about the poor/the disadvantaged. All of these arguments (for the lack of a better word) have been discredited decades ago by the social sciences once they were placed under scrutiny.

    Not that most conservative people allow themselves to be affected by things like empirical evidence or education. Think creationism or white supremacism, to name but two examples of this curious and rather nasty phenomemon.

  47. Maybe this is easier to explain by the hand of an example:
    I'm studying in college right now: computer science. Lots of different people: Germans, English, Polish, Chinese, Japanese. Note the lack of 'black' people. And when I ask them what they do, most of them are working or studying on a lower level/degree. Even though they finished the same high school as me. They're content with that, simply because they aren't interested. Perhaps this is bigger/different in America. If so, please elaborate

  48. You underscore my point about how you consistently assume the position of a right-wing reactionary quite perfectly, as you keep taking the point of view of the privileged, or of the "haves".

    The only question I'm really asking is: What if the needs of the underprivileged weigh more heavily than the sensitivities of the privileged? It's telling that this question seems to generate a great deal of angst in you.

    A status quo which discriminates the many in favor of the few tends to end badly.

  49. I found that really valuable. I found myself so mystified looking at my associate go from being a loser to a ladies man. He started attracting chicks over night. He pretended he didn't realize. Then he explained it to me while he was wasted on Bourbon. He revealed he learned from the Jake Ayres Master Attraction Formula. Google it if you wish to know about it… He's seeing a stunner… Where are the most useful of these videos on Youtube?

  50. Everyone has access to powerful pathogens like Anthrax, which are envrionmentallly ubiquitous. This is a nice piece of propaganda, but I guarantee a terrible accident will happen. "Africanized" bees are a bioegenetic accident, for example. Even worse, it is a given the biohackers will result in bioterrorism, and framing people with DNA just like she said. So is this a good thing? I am a retired biochemist and dead against this.

  51. 0:25

    wow, the very first thing she says is retardedly wrong. she says: "3 million" "bits" of information. Wrong on both accounts. The human genome has around 3.2 Billion, BASE PAIRS. Base pairs are not equivalent to bits.

    I don't know if I can watch the rest, when the first thing she says is so wrong.

  52. I looked at most of the responses. I believe that’s a useful youtube video. My bro wishes to get perfect with chicks. He studied a fuck load from a site called Master Attraction. (Google it.) The guidance with regards to seducing girls through clubs from Master Attraction got him his very first lays in greater than 2 long years. I became bothered however coz I heard them all.

  53. The first to buy your genetic information will be the insurance companies, so they can check for risk factor SNPs etc and refuse you insurance because you're 25% more likely to develop a certain disease than the general population. 
    I would never call for a ban on the technology though, its a tool with many beneficial applications, personalised medicine etc.
    As with all tools, its the uses that must be regulated, the only issue is that in this instance the tech may be advancing ahead of the reg.

  54. when could we see practical application to these diy biohack centers? i mean in 5 years can i walk in hack my genome and randomly change my hair or eye color as easy as the background on my phone? or will there be government restrictions against genome tampering for desired traits in future children? let's get to the real questions here.

  55. I digg this idea! Like opensource computing but with bio! The major company's are holding us back and we as people if we work together we can get further better. Its all trial and error from which we learn.

  56. ¡Detengan esta Dictadura! ¡NADIE LES HA VOTADO EN UNAS ELECCIONES Y POR

  57. 3 million bits of information in my genome? did this famed biologist really just get that basic fact wrong by a factor of a thousand? also it's base pairs and not "bits" at all.

    …oh dear. how embarrassing for her.

  58. The part where she says snow in the middle of Sahara desert and year 2016- 2017 we had snow in the Sahara desert! She predicted it!!!!

  59. I want to learn more about crispr technology, the YouTube Community should incentive more to do tutorials about this technology because there are so many people out there making experiments in their garage with this technology, please YouTube incentive more videos about biotechnology, should be in the future youTubers bing biotechnology educators


  61. Wtf…I checked and Sahara dessert had snowfall in 2018 ….so it's possible she can create superbug by accident….and humans will wiped out… :0

  62. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/sahara-desert-snow-storm-climate-algeria-ain-sefra-africa-weather-latest-a8149226.html

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