Monday, January 28, 2008

Drew Endy and the Art of DNA Hacking

The 24th Chaos Communication Congress (24C3) is the annual four-day conference organized by the Chaos Computer Club (CCC). It takes place at the bcc Berliner Congress Center in Berlin, Germany. The Congress offers lectures and workshops on a multitude of topics and attracts a diverse audience of thousands of hackers, scientists, artists, and utopians from all around the world. The 24C3s slogan is Volldampf voraus! – the German equivalent of “full steam ahead” – a particular request for talks and projects featuring forward looking hands-on topics.
Drew Endy is an inventive scientific heir of the original genetic engineers at Stanford and UCSF who started to revolutionize biology and medicine around the time he was born in 1970. His generation may leap even further, not just by splicing a few genes but by constructing entire synthetic life forms whose impact across many technologies could rival the transforming effects of the computer age.
The imperative of the born engineer drives Endy's interest in biology: "I like to build stuff," he said. But he's a trained engineer who also quotes Thomas Jefferson as he describes the young generation of wired, wiki-fed students who are hurtling fearlessly into this new future: "The earth belongs to the living."

Genetic engineering is now a thirty year old technology. For reference, over a similar period of time, modern computing machines went from exclusive objects used to design weapons of mass destruction, to the now ubiquitous panoply of personal computing devices that support mass communication and construction. Inspired by this and many other past examples of the overwhelmingly constructive uses of technology by individuals, we have been working over the past five years to develop new tools that will help to make biology easy to engineer. We have also been working to foster a constructive culture of future biological technologists, who can reliably and responsibly conceive, develop, and deliver biological technologies that solve local problems.

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