Homegrown GMOs at SXSW?

SXSW conjures up images of indie bands and films, not biotechnology.  But homegrown SXSW GMOs?  Really?  A Canadian company, Synbiota, answers, “Yes.” They rented a house and hosted a biohacking party at the March 2015 SXSW festival.

In between sipping cups of beer from a keg in the backyard, party-goers could use software on a laptop in the living room to design a custom plasmid – a loop of DNA – that will turn E. coli bacteria the color of your choice.

Interesting concept. Putting biotechnology into the hands of non-scientists.

On the kitchen table, small tubes held the DNA sequences and connectors that let people build their plasmids for real. The bacteria and DNA were then combined in a process called transformation using a special tool. They were painted onto Petri dishes and popped into an incubator near the TV.  By the next night, colourful spots were starting to appear on the plates.


Homegrown SXSW GMOs? Fun with Petri dishes!

If you spend any time on message boards related to the GMO topic, people’s frustration is palpable on both sides. Anti-GMOers believe we haven’t received thorough and honest test results and that we have a right to know what’s in our food.  The pro-GMO camp thinks most of us need to look at peer-reviewed data and educate ourselves on the “science”.  I’m not saying this biotech kit will solve any big problems, but perhaps there’s something to be said for understanding the science.

Synbiota CEO Connor Dickie explains, “A lot of fear around GMOs today is in my opinion based out of people that don’t have an understanding of what a GMO is. Part of the problem is that genetic technology has mainly only been accessible to researchers and big corporations such as Monsanto.”

But is it safe?

Dickie says the E. coli in Synbiota’s kit is a particularly weak strain. “If they were to leave the Petri dish, they’re really not going to take a foothold in your kitchen,” he said.

Vincent Martin, Canada Research Chair in Microbial Genomics and Engineering at Concordia University, agrees that it’s unlikely anyone could do much harm with Synbiota’s kit, any more than anyone could build a bomb with a home chemistry kit.

It’s all fun and games until someone’s Petri dish breaks…

To read the full article, written by Emily Chung, visit CBC News at:

Author: renezimbelman

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