MANY of the worldâ€™s great innovators started out as hackersâ€”people who like to tinker with technologyâ€”and some of the largest technology companies started in garages. Thomas Edison built General Electric on the foundation of an improved way to transmit messages down telegraph wires, which he cooked up himself. Hewlett-Packard was founded in a garage in California (now a national landmark), as was Google, many years later. And, in addition to computer hardware and software, garage hackers and home-build enthusiasts are now merrily cooking up electric cars, drone aircraft and rockets. But what about biology? Might biohackingâ€”tinkering with the DNA of existing organisms to create new onesâ€”lead to innovations of a biological nature?
And as the price falls, amateurs are wasting little time getting started. Several groups are already hard at work finding ways to duplicate at home the techniques used by government laboratories and large corporations. One place for them to learn about biohacking is DIYbio, a group that holds meetings in America and Britain and has about 800 people signed up for its newsletter. DIYbio plans to perform experiments such as sending out its members in different cities to swab public objects. The DNA thus collected could be used to make a map showing the spread of micro-organisms.