This Weekend, Start Building a New Life FormS

In a few years, your weekend hacking project will involve bits of DNA and a PCR machine instead of a soldering iron or glue. With the help of the Open Wetware Project, and the Registry of Standard Biological Parts Wiki, you too can become an amateur synthetic biologist. But this isn't about evil mad scientist stuff. People using these new open-source biohacking tools are trying create helpful life forms, like insulin-producing bacteria or drought-tolerant crops. Here's a quick introduction to the biohacking tools everybody will be using tomorrow.

Registry of Standard Biological Parts [a wiki]. Start with the tutorial, just to get a flavor of what it means to take standard biological parts from a registry and put them together into a new organism. It's actually a lot simpler than you might think. This parts registry is a tool repository, but also a repository of information about biological parts that people have standarized, codified, and registered. A "part" isn't something like an arm — it's going to be something small, like an enzyme that affects a gene, or a protein that causes a particular biological state. Or perhaps a gene that will make you grow an arm.

Open Wetware Project [a community]. This is a clearinghouse community site for academics, students, and the public to share information about synthetic biology and biological engineering projects. You'll find classes, tutorials, and massive lists of laboratories working on biohacking. It's a great place to poke around and find out what people are really doing to create new life forms — and what their motivations are. Also, if you've got your own project or want to know more about an ongoing project, this the place to go to share ideas.

Programming DNA [a lecture] As we've mentioned before, MIT professor Drew Endy gave a smashing and fun introductory lecture about biohacking a couple of months ago at the Chaos Computer Congress in Berlin. If you want a crash course in how hacking a biological system can be like hacking a machine, load this one into your portable media device of choice and watch it during your commute (but only if you're not driving).

BioBricks Foundation [a standards body]. This is a non-profit formed by people from Harvard, MIT and UCSF in order to create standards for what counts as a "biological part." They're tackling legal and ethical issues, as well as strongly supporting the idea of making all information about biological parts and synthetic biology available for free to the public.

Open Biohacking Kit [via Sourceforge]. Get started on your biohacking project with this free software package. From the Sourceforge description:

This open, free synthetic biology kit contains all sorts of information from across the web on how to do it: how to extract and amplify DNA, cloning techniques, making DNA by what's known as oligonucleotides, and all sorts of other tutorials and documents on techniques in genetic engineering, tissue engineering, synbio (synthetic biology), stem cell research, SCNT, evolutionary engineering, bioinformatics, etc.

Image above is of a creature created with Maxis' forthcoming game Spore.