The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars recently conducted a survey as part of a report on the growing do-it-yourself (DIY) Biology movement. The newly released report (H/T ScienceInsider) from the Synthetic Biology Project is apparently the first of its kind to track what activities the community is involved with.
The report authors are interested in countering existing stories about the DIYBio community that don’t match with what their research (and survey data) have demonstrated. The brief takeaway, from their perspective – the threat posed by this research (and these researchers) has been overstated in the press.
While the authors are careful to note that their work is a current snapshot of the field, I am concerned that the press connected to this report may oversimplify what’s going on. In other words, the new stories will be about how the old stories oversold the magnitude of what is going on in the field and the possible threats of what could be taking place.
I think the most productive recommendations from the report will be those focused on how to grow, support and manage research in this area moving forward. As a DIY community is not necessarily connected to existing institutions, having the capacity to educate interested researchers and provide them spaces to work is not guaranteed. Such resources could also ease the burden of monitoring and guiding the research moving forward. A previous report from the Synthetic Biology Project suggests to me that at least some community self-regulation would be useful in the future, as federal action is coming slowly.
Either way, this survey needs to be the first of several, and not the end of a discussion.