The following is a press release announcing that the Open Wetlab was granted a license to create GMOs.
Amsterdam, The Netherlands: A new license has been introduced by the Dutch government allowing educational institutions to create genetically modified organisms (or GMOs). The first institution in Holland to be granted the license is Waag Society's Open Wetlab.
Pieter van Boheemen, head of Waag Society's Open Wetlab, explains that, under the new license, members of the Open Wetlab can now “program” living organisms by editing their DNA. Boheemen plans to incorporate the technology into the BioHack Academy curriculum—perhaps even dedicating a whole course to the subject. The applications of this technology are quite broad. Scientists around the globe have used it to blur the boundaries between species in a variety of ways. In our world there are now goats that produce spider silk in their milk, bullet-proof human skin, and vegan cheeses made without milk. But don't expect any superheroes to fly out of the Waag anytime soon—regulations are quite strict. The first open workshop involving this technology will teach citizen scientists to genetically engineer E. Coli to create bioluminescent bacteria.
Of course such practices can be controversial, but Boheemen says that's the point. Bringing the technology into the Open Wetlab and allowing the public to learn how to use it facilitates discussions about where to draw the ethical lines. On one had, this technology could be used to cure genetic diseases or allow for the mass-production of biofuels. On the other hand, it could be used to create genetically modified viruses that could be released into the environment.
It's easy to be swayed by optimism and scare-tactics, but how can we really form opinions about things we don't understand? The Do-It-Together Bio methodology of the Open Wetlab provides citizens with the knowledge necessary to grapple with such dilemmas. “It's not up to me to decide the ethical boundaries in the world,” Boheemen says. “That's something we should all do together.”