What happens when a number of things you like also become a number of things that worry you? I was listening to the radio when I came across a story that simultaneously intrigued, excited and worried me. There was an entrepreneurial element, a do it yourself philosophy, a crowd sourcing activity, innovation and an environmental focus, all things I think are pretty cool. It also had an entrepreneurial element, a do it yourself philosophy, a crowd sourcing activity, innovation and an environmental focus that made me think…was there a touch of mad scientist about it? Was what they were doing safe, ethical…wise?
So what was causing me this dilemma? My challenge was, glowing plants. Yup, you read me right. Glowing plants sit at the centre of my conundrum. Let me back up a bit for those of you who haven’t come across this gem. Three guys from California known as biohackers, (no I’d never heard of that term before) were working on engineering a plant that would glow in the dark. The idea was that if you could get the plant to the right luminosity (a 60 watt bulb…no pun intended) you could use the plants as an alternative to electrical lighting. This new technology could reduce the amount of light noise that is so prevalent in cities, that glow that blocks the stars. What’s more, with our glowing plants we could reduce the strain on our hydro electrical systems. Imagine not worrying about the usual summer blackouts or the more terrifying winter ones.
These Do-It-Yourself scientists from a lab called, BioCurious used social media to reach out and grab attention. They asked for donations for their research and in return, they would share their seeds with investors. They started out with a goal of raising $65,000 but ended up bringing in over $480,000. Who knew glowing plants would have so much appeal?
The thing is, these guys would be working outside of any university, institute or regulatory body. This is where my conundrum shows up. I’ve worked in the health sector for while now. Have heard endlessly about the concerns pharmacists had around everything from poor prescribing to poor disposal of chemicals…strange things happen when you put a drug in the wrong place, whether that place is your body or the environment. I’ve also had enough pharmaceutical manufacturing clients and partners to know the degree of review and oversight they put in place to ensure safety. However, despite what can sometimes seem like insurmountable regulatory roadblocks, drugs can still make it to the public that might do harm. That isn’t because no one cared or someone wasn’t diligent, it’s because you can’t always discover what the full effects of a drug are until it’s been used by thousands of people. It’s also because once a drug is on the market secondary uses are often discovered and then the drug can be given to an entirely new group of individuals before full trials are conducted.
How safe was it then for these biohackers to distribute their seeds to people anywhere in the world simply based on their financial contributions? What impact could these plants have on our environment…on us? Needless to say the entire project sparked a whole debate around modified foods/agriculture and of course, how they had worked their way around the regulatory system. Social media is pretty powerful stuff. You can read more about it on the link below or listen in on the podcast from the CBC.
What do think? Cool new take on Power-Plant or really just a scary Franken-Flower?
Results from last weeks poll reveal, that just over 35% of us fall for the lure of stats, another 35% are occasionally seduced by their call and a clever 28% are just not biting.
- Glowing Plants: Crowdsourced Genetic Engineering Project Ignites Controversy (ScientificAmerican.com)
- As It Happens Podcast (6:05 start point) (CBC Radio, As It Happens from June 7, 2013)