Do-It-Yourself Biology: Reality and the Path Toward Innovation

Senior Research Associate, Science and Technology Innovation Program, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, United States


The United States has always been associated with innovation, particularly individuals or groups of individuals designing and developing new ideas in their garages and basements. As the Do-It-Yourself Biology (DIYBIO) community has grown, so too has the concern surrounding individuals and groups tinkering with biology. While much of this concern is overblown, the DIYBIO community is better positioned than any other organization to develop a positive culture around citizen science and to set the pattern for best practices worldwide by establishing a code of ethics, developing norms for safety, and creating shared resources for amateur biologists. U.S. policy should enable such exploration and innovation to occur by eliminating barriers to government research funding, harnessing the power of crowdsourcing, encouraging educational opportunities through community laboratories and reevaluating the current patent/intellectual property (IP) structure for biotechnology and medicine. The question remains whether the U.S. will enable and lead or restrict such exploration and innovation to occur.