Make your own DNA

Illustration for article titled Make your own DNA

We love the idea of the Glowing Plant Project, which will teach you about synthetic biology by allowing you to do some. The group has a Kickstarter campaign that, if successful, will allow anybody to grow a glowing plant from jellyfish DNA and a mustard flower.

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What's amazing is all the technology that already exists to do this. We have "gene printers" that can literally print out DNA, and a "gene gun" to shoot modified DNA right into the cells of the plant. The result? A mustard plant that glows green, just like a jellyfish. The jellyfish's green fluorescent proteins are used all the time in genomics, and are harmless. There have already been genetically engineered glowing green bunnies, kittens, and more.

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The group hopes that this project will lead to DiY synbio kits, and will help everybody from kids to scientists learn more about one of the most important new fields in biology.

The team describes their project:

By backing this project you can help create the world’s first naturally glowing plant, inspire others to become interested in synthetic biology and receive some awesome rewards in the process.

Funds raised will be used to print the DNA sequences we have designed using Genome Compiler and to transform the plants by inserting these sequences into the plant and then growing the resultant plant in the lab.

Printing DNA costs a minimum of 25 cents per base pair and our sequences are about 10,000 base pairs long. We plan to print a number of sequences so that we can test the results of trying different promoters – this will allow us to optimize the result. We will be printing our DNA with Cambrian Genomics who have developed a revolutionary laser printing system that massively reduces the cost of DNA synthesis.

Transforming the plant will initially be done using the Agrobacterium method. Our printed DNA will be inserted into a special type of bacteria which can insert its DNA into the plant. Seeds of a flowering plant are then dipped into a solution containing the transformed bacteria. The bacteria then injects our DNA into the cell nucleus of the seeds which we can grow until they glow! You can see this process in action in our video.

Once we have proven the designs work we will then insert the same gene sequence into the plant using a gene gun. This is more complicated, as there's a risk the gene sequence gets scrambled, but the result will be unregulated by the USDA and thus suitable for release.

Funds raised will also be used to support our work to develop an open policy framework for DIY Bio work involving recombinant DNA. This framework will provide guidelines to help others who are inspired by this project navigate the regulatory and social challenges inherent in community based synthetic biology. The framework will include recommendations for what kinds of projects are safe for DIY Bio enthusiasts and recommendations for the processes which should be put in place (such as getting experts to review the plans).

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DISCUSSION

I'm a science nerd, and I was born that way. This sounds great, but seriously is there no thought of is this a good idea, will there be some kind of ecological mishap with thousands upon thousands of kid get their own glowing plant. Do we know the affect this will have on the wild firefly population. The relatively harmless gene of the jellyfish evolved in the jelly fish not in your mother's roses bush for a very good reason.

I think perhaps we need to step back and thick about the ethics of this. I can understand the coolness factor, and I can even understand the desire to create new forms of life or variations there of. The issue that needs to be addressed is should we. This is the question we have yet to truly address with messing with our own genome. When people decide that well we should start adding or removing a gene we also move toward the idea of destroying that gene -literally we could say gene-ocide.

The genome of any species is as Dawkins put it - I paraphrase : the historical genetic record of the ancestors of that species as well as the record of all the predators of that species. Now humans come along, and say hey I think it would be aesthetically pleasing if I could make my garden glow. Should we forget that it took millions of years for most of the plants in your garden to arrive at this point in their evolution, what right do we have to work outside the laws of nature, what right do we have to decide such things. It may be hubris to think that we are the epitome of evolution, of life itself and as such we are given free reign.

Now some may say what about learning the capacity to genetically modify a person to kill off the gene for cancer, or autism, or multiple sclerosis? I would have to counter that genetic variation has it's advantages and it's price. If we begin to homogenize the human genome, the question wont be will be more perfect, the question will be when do we stop being human.

I say learn about the genes that cause disease and suffering, learn about what turns them on and what the cost would be to turning them off. Let not go running in to the future, walk the future is coming to meet up with you anyway, make sure you're there to meet it too.