These are all big questions for a field that is still in its infancy, says Ellen Jorgensen, president of the community biotechnology laboratory Genspace in New York. “It’s too early to tell,” she says. “You can argue, that if you get people with radically different backgrounds, you get fresh perspectives and new ideas. And you can argue that science is so complicated now, that DIY could not make any valid contribution, that you need to have too much expertise and infrastructure, (something) that DIY would never have.”
Jorgensen is optimistic, however. “There’s certainly a great potential, and I’m not the one who would say, that it is not going to happen. I want to see it happen!”
Of course, all the nice, well-meaning people we met during our long journey through the world of DIY biology are no guarantee that there isn't anyone out there putting their criminal energy into biotech. But limiting the work and the opportunities of the former just because of fear of the latter will do nothing to change that.
Methods and materials, such as the ones we used, are on the verge of becoming available to a wider public. It is that public which will have to decide how to use biotech in the future. To be able to do that, people need to have the opportunity to get to know and use it, rather than leaving the decisions about its future to the political, industrial and scientific elites.
The hope is that we and others in the DIYbio movement can and will continue to switch on a light which allows people to better understand a technology that may shape their future in major ways. We may have locked ourselves up in a toilet so that we could see our first DIY-produced gene. But we did so in order to keep the light out, not the police.
More from this series
Becoming biohackers: Learning the game
The full account of the authors’ experiments will be published in Biohacking: Gentechnik aus der Garage (Genetic Engineering from the Garage), and an English e-book version is also planned. If you would like to comment on this article or anything else you have seen on Future, head over to our Facebook page or message us on Twitter.