Monday, January 12, 2009

In which Eppendork gets punKd so to speak...

Eppendork, I don't understand your fear. Just how easy do you think it would be for one to isolate some anthrax from the soil and then grow it in a way that it could be "released or weaponized", that is, if one didn't expose oneself to the agent during the process? These Chicken Little posts about mere possibilities have to have more substance than the usual "no, i'm scared, its bad" that is floating around the blogaspheres. Would you enlighten me?

Figure 1: Eppendork doesnt think GMO is wrong or evil or bad - there is a time and place

Biopunk raised an interesting viewpoint about whether the previous post was just good old fashioned scaremongering which in Biopunk’s words is “floating around various blogospheres”. Eppendork will enlighten you Biopunk – she is good like that. The availability and viability of any bacteria is a moot point – microbes are everywhere – you the backdoor/garage scientist just has to know where to look and have a basic knowledge of how to use the internet. Now Eppendork loves the internet as much as the next person – information at her gorgeously manicured fingertips both delights me and disturbs me.  However, a little information can be a dangerous thing – and to be honest I think that is a fair call. I mean look how easy it is to get a recipe for bomb making – Wikipedia god love them (I really wouldn’t trust them either about being a accurate source of information, however the BioPunk article was interesting) – has pages dedicated to all manner of microbes and their growth conditions. Just type in Anthrax, Media and growth conditions and see what pops up – you don’t even have to use the correct species name. I imagine safety gear is just as easy to acquire. A piece of information, a recipe or a formula taken out of context and given to a lay person who may or may not consider the wider consequences of their actions disturbs Eppendork. To be honest with you Biopunk I like freedom of speech and I like the availability of the information but I do think there are limits to where it is a good thing. That is why public debate both within the blogosphere and without is an excellent idea and I fully support that.

The following is just my personal opinion as a Molecular Microbiologist and is actually what I was thinking about when I composed the previous blog. I personally don’t think GMO bacteria should be created or released outside of a PC2 Lab. At the end of the day bacteria are just big fat dirty ho bags who will, given half a chance either willingly share their plasmids with each other and/or their chromosomal dna. If you give a colony a particular plasmid and you let it go say “go free – multiply my pretties” they will do just that and then they will add their own spesh additions on to the dna plasmid or not that you have given them. Whether it be plain old recombination or just simple normal everyday synonymous base substitutions, it will happen. Bacteria scavenge dna just as a normal everyday occurrence, it will happen. My field loves those little changes a lot – they excite me when I see them – because they tell me a lot. Natural selection will always occur in all living species – it just happens and you can see it happening very quickly with bacteria - the acquistion of new dna happens to help it survive long enough for it to pass it on to the next generation - gotta love it. The problem I have with using or creating GM bacteria outside of a controlled lab is that you just cant control what those cells will do in terms of sharing dna or modifying the dna you have given them. To be honest you can’t really control it in the lab either but you can contain it and destroy it easily.

I think that if you cannot predict or at least compensate for the potentially negative outcomes you should not be doing the experiment, and unless you have a PC2 lab and are following tight governing authority guidelines at home you should not be doing GMO experiments, least of all in your wardrobe. I don’t think that creating GMO’s at home is being responsible as a scientist – and it falls on our shoulders as scientists to be responsible for the creation and disposal of all GMO organisms. Responsible, ethical science is really important whether your particular GMO be an E.coli you have generated, Dolly the sheep or a reverse engineered virus. Don’t you agree BioPunk?

So to recap:
  1. The evolution of microbes is happening as we speak - not a damn thing you can do to stop and why would you want to? Eppendorks science would fall over and that would be a sad, sad day in her book. However, human intervention and creation of GMO's will push the evolution of these organisms in possibly a completely different direction to that which they would have gone naturally. The release of these organisms in to the wild will either mean they die (and we have dodged part of a bullet, as the dna may yet be taken up) or they will survive and share willi nilly their fabulous dna with other bacteria who dont give a rats where it came from - think natural selection it just happens people. Release of these human generated organisms into the environment accidental or not shouldn't happen.

  2. I applaud you and your BioPunk kin rocking out in a scientific way - becauses let's face it Science is da bomb. However, there are rules and regulations and committees for a reason - it is necessary to follow these regulations so that we can be responsible, ethical scientists as well as human beings. This article gives an overview of biosafety measures - it's readable you should read it.

  3. My main concern is about control and disposal of the GMO's you create because I know how promiscuous bacteria are - bacteria have no ethics and dont give a rats about anything else because the only thing they are programmed to do is survive and pass on their genes to the next generation.  I realise natural GM of organisms has been going on for billions of years - its's why we are here today - but that GM is unlikely to have turned rabbits fluorescent or given tomatoes mamalian genes or archael genes to E. coli via plasmids (although you never know with that one), and it is a lot easier to control a transgenic animal or plant than it is to control bacteria. The point is if you can't control the organism and dispose of it responsibly you shouldn't be doing it (that goes for any transgenic experiment).


PS: Eppendork realises she anthropomorphised a lot during this discussion but thinks it worked anyway.