Biosafety in DIY‐bio laboratories: from hype to policy

Published on 24 March 2021

Discussions about regulating DIY biology tend to ignore the extent of self‐regulation and oversight of DIY laboratories


DIY biology – very broadly construed as the practice of biological experiments outside of traditional research environments such as universities, research institutes or companies – has, during the past decade, gained much prominence. This increased attention has raised a number of questions about biosafety and biosecurity, both in the media and by policy makers who are concerned about safety and security lapses in “garage biology”. There are a number of challenges here though when it comes to policies to regulate DIY biology. For a start, the term itself escapes easy definition: synonyms or related terms abound, including garage biotechnology, bio‐hacking, self‐modification/grinding, citizen science, bio‐tinkering, bio‐punk, even transhumanism. Some accounts even use ‘DIY‐bio’ interchangeably with synthetic biology, even though these terms refer to different emerging trends in biology. Some of these terms are more charged than others but each carries its own connotations with regard to practice, norms and legality. As such, conversations about the risk, safety and regulation of DIY‐bio can be fraught.

Given the increasing policy discussions about DIY‐bio, it is crucial to consider prevailing practice thoughtfully, and accurately. Key questions that researchers, policy makers and the public need to contemplate include the following: “How do different DIY‐bio spaces exist within regulatory frameworks, and enact cultures of (bio)safety?”, “How are these influenced by norms and governance structures?”, “If something is unregulated, must it follow that it is unsafe?” and “What about the reverse: does regulatory oversight necessarily lead to safer practice?”.

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