DNA Hackers Look to Disrupt the Biotech Industry

by Lon Seidman | Jun 7, 2012 8:25am
(4) Comments | Commenting has expired

TWiT Network

Omri Drory developed software to rapidly compile DNA

Many great information technology companies launched in garages by young silicon hackers. Now a new generation of hackers are starting to do the same in the bio sciences, developing new software programs and techniques that are set to disrupt the biotech industry in a very big way.

We found two videos that show just how far genetic hackers have come in a very short period of time.

The first is from Tuur van Balen, a Belgian scientist, who shows how to hack the bacteria found in yogurt to produce prozac and beta carotene. He accomplishes the task with around $2000 worth of equipment (most of it home made) and genetic code found online and “printed” by a genetic sequencing service.

Genetic source code is much like computer binary code. And like computer binary code most programmers use “interpreters” that translate that code into clearer language. In the following video from Leo Laporte and the TWiT network, genetic entrepreneur Omri Drory demonstrates his new software product that allows for drag and drop DNA sequencing. He’s joined by another genetic hacker, Austen Heinz of Cambrian Genomics, who is working on ways to dramatically reduce the cost involved with sequencing DNA produced from Drory’s software.

Drory says he will soon be launching a Kickstarter project that will sell glowing oak trees using hacked DNA from fireflies.

Both Drory and Heinz have no reservations over DNA hacking to create new lifeforms or variations of existing ones. They say humans have been doing this for centuries with plants and animals through selection. Others, however, say it’s dangerous to be playing with the building blocks of life. What do you think?

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(4) Comments

posted by: Christine Stuart | June 11, 2012  1:25pm

Christine Stuart

Okay call me weird but I saw an episode of Bones where a hacker wrote a virus on a set of bones and caused the computers to fail. (Yes I watch dumb tv sometimes) So is this about destruction or creation?

posted by: GoatBoyPHD | June 11, 2012  3:28pm


Of course this is a common sci fi trope. “12 Monkees” is among my favorites. We have physical 3D Printers today. The leap to printing simple cellar organisms won’t be as great as some think.

The mad hacker is the great fear. A highly communicable and deadly human virus. A revenge against America for StuxNet and ‘complex’ computer viruses released by secular capitalists. Or by a geno-terrorist group who also offers a cure as in “Mission Impossible II” and “V for Vendetta”.

My bet is on wWillard’s Mutant Mouse Lab in Farmington. What? You can’t hear Dan Malloy giving Zorg’s “Fifth Element”  Speech?

Zorg: Life, which you so nobly serve, comes from destruction, disorder and chaos. Take this empty glass. Here it is, peaceful, serene and boring. But if it is… [pushes glass off table] destroyed… [robot cleaners move to clean broken glass] Look at all these little things. So busy now. Notice how each one is useful. What a lovely ballet ensues, so full of form and color. Now, think about all those people that created them. Technicians, engineers, hundreds of people who’ll be able to feed their children tonight so those children can grow up big and strong and have little teeny weeny children of their own, and so on and so forth. Thus, adding to the great chain… of life. You see, Father, by creating a little destruction, I’m actually encouraging life.

posted by: jenand | June 18, 2012  2:20pm

Goatboy freakin me out again. This stuff is so out there that it makes sense.
the concept - the most simple idea never thought of. Like the pepper and sea salt, that are sold in their own grinderjars - how long did that take?

posted by: brutus2011 | June 19, 2012  12:59pm


Great reference to Zorg!