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Biopunk: Kitchen-Counter Scientists Hack the Software of Life

3.66  ·  Rating Details ·  352 Ratings  ·  62 Reviews
Bill Gates recently told Wired that if he were a teenager today, he would be hacking biology. "If you want to change the world in some big way," he says, "that's where you should start-biological molecules."

The most disruptive force on the planet resides in DNA. Biotech companies and academic researchers are just beginning to unlock the potential of piecing together life
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published April 14th 2011 by Current
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Brave New World by Aldous HuxleyThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca SklootThe Handmaid's Tale by Margaret AtwoodNeuromancer by William GibsonThe Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins
A Biopunk reading list
98th out of 180 books — 36 voters
BioBuilder by Natalie KuldellAt the Bench by Kathy BarkerBiopunk by Marcus WohlsenRegenesis by George M. Church
3rd out of 4 books — 1 voter

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Apr 03, 2016 Forrest rated it really liked it
I first heard about this book on Wisconsin Public Radio's "To the Best of our Knowledge". The idea of an underground movement of geeks and brains working on gene splicing in their kitchens and garages intrigued me and the subject matter dovetailed nicely with my in-progress science fiction novel. In true DIY fashion, I borrowed the book from the library and gave it a read.

The subject of the book is romantic and intriguing: imagine self-trained scientists mimicking and refining larger-scale, more
This is a wonderfully engaging book about amateur scientists and technologists who are developing innovations in biotechnology. The gadgets you have in your kitchen give you better tools than those that were available in a serious laboratory of a hundred years ago. Technologies are developing so fast, and become so much cheaper, that we may be well on our way to the technological "singularity".

You can now buy a device the size of a USB drive, that gets plugged into a USB port on your computer. P
I received this book from Goodreads First Reads for free.

I think it's absolutely hilarious that I won this book, because it's about people deciding to do bio-hacking in their own space and time, rejecting the idea that good science has to come from institutionalized academia or biotech companies; I've worked in both.

I initially thought the book would just be a bunch of case studies of people doing wacky experiments in their kitchens in their spare time and I was pleasantly surprised to find that
May 24, 2015 Dustin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
One of my favorite books so far this year has been Steven Levy's Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution. Levy has a talent for humanizing these hackers and forging a narrative from the random hacks that led to the computing revolution, the founding of artificial intelligence, and the information age. By the end of the book, I found myself wishing that I'd been around for a piece of the action. Want to get into hacking today?, the afterword solicited. Try biohacking.

Biopunk was Hackers withou
Mar 29, 2011 Krista rated it liked it
Shelves: first-reads
This book is full of interesting and well-researched vignettes about scientific mavericks doing high-tech biology in low-tech environments like their kitchens and garages and third-world countries. I worked in biotechnology and it was still a shock to me to find out the level of basement research that is possible (did you know that strands of DNA can be mail-ordered?), especially given the current regulatory environment. But the experimentation is not unprecedented, as the book also profiles imp ...more
Jul 07, 2011 Care rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
This book definitely has an interesting premise in its theme of do-it-yourself biohackers championing open-sourcing of intellectual property in an effort to pool research regarding DNA. Don’t let the science scare you; author Marcus Wohlsen makes biology and the blueprint of life very accessible. In essence, this work deals with young, bright individuals who set up biology wet labs in their garages and kitchens and attempt to do for DNA what Bill Gates and Steve Jobs did for computers. They are ...more
Rebecca Schwarz
Despite the two stars (2.5 really), I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a quick introduction to the topic of DIY biology. There's a lot of interesting stuff here about synthetic biology and genetic engineering, and given in a fairly easy to understand format. The book highlights several people and small businesses that are working in the life sciences outside of large corporations or large universities. There are the entrepreneurs working to make small, cheap DNA readers so that do ...more
May 14, 2014 Steve rated it liked it
Shelves: science
Kind of interesting, Wohlsen goes a talk to a few people out there who like to do genetic engineering at home, the the garage, and on the cheap. It was a revelation to me that it was possible to set up a discount bio-lab, but apparently there are people who have done it and are doing it.

Of course, Open Science is big on the agenda of most biopunk aficionados, and for this they are to be commended. It may well be the cure for cancer, or some other novel biological solution is a result of one such
Nov 28, 2015 Jim rated it it was amazing
Shelves: genomics-dna
A series of wired-like chapters on roll your own biology. I found it to be interesting.
Jan 07, 2016 Samuel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
BIOPUNK was a very interesting read to say the least. I would say it was intended for anyone interested in the field of biology and in which direction biology is taking. It was not an easy read, especially for someone who inst a biology major, but i believe that was the intent. The book would slowly introduce the reader to new words and concepts which, following the theme of the book, would encourage independent research on these machines and technologies. I found it very interesting how people ...more
Mar 27, 2011 Kate rated it really liked it
This is a great overview of the DIY, homebrew biology movement of garage tinkerers who are playing with DNA and building their own wet lab equipment. I'm a science fan but not particularly scientifically-minded, and this book was perfectly written so that I grasped exactly what the profiled biohackers were up to without needing a degree in biology in my background. The biohackers make for interesting, colorful characters, and Wohlsen captures their work in engaging prose. He also addresses the d ...more
Jun 23, 2011 Karenshaff rated it really liked it
WOW - I never thought I'd see the day when Biotech could be or would be done in the garage or basement of people's homes. Having worked so many years in laboratories, knowing the costs of materials and equipment, I never thought it possible to "work from home" in this field! This book tells about a growing number of people who are not just random garage punks, but many are educated and smart folks who have ideas that they want to try out NOW and not wait around for the corporate or university re ...more
Connie  Kuntz
Jun 18, 2011 Connie Kuntz rated it it was amazing
The older I get, the line between science and art blurs. I am very thankful for the blur. That blur is where I learned the difference between being empowered and being told what to do. I have become addicted to the blur. If you wonder where I am, I am chasing the blur.

Biopunk engages the minds of those who like to tinker in and around the blur. Tinker, like blur, unfortunately, has negative connotations. Verbs like tinker, noodle, doodle...they aren't strong. People don't take you seriously if y
Sep 24, 2014 Cryselle rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people interested in new developments in science
I was fortunate enough to get this book as part of the Goodreads Giveaway program -- thanks to the author, publisher, and GR for the opportunity.

I enjoy popular science, especially when it brings fields to my attention that I haven't already read. This was an eye-opener for anyone who thinks in terms of sterile labs and white coats.

Some well-educated, free-thinking people are doing some astonishing things, in a tradition that goes way back before garage computer tinkerers -- this is what made Sp
Gary Brecht
Jun 14, 2011 Gary Brecht rated it liked it
The intriguing notion that non-professional scientists could possibly make breakthrough discoveries in garage laboratories (done on the cheap) is explored by journalist Marcus Wohlsen. The author demonstrates, through specific examples, how individuals with a scientific background and a powerful thirst for knowledge become obsessed with the idea that the genetic code in all living things can be manipulated to find cures to deadly diseases and to create new forms of life which will benefit all ma ...more
Mar 16, 2011 Jeffrey rated it really liked it
I received this book free in a Goodreads First Reads giveaway

This quick, accessible, non-fiction book on the non-traditional bioengineering movement and its efforts to increase accessibility to the knowledge, technology, and implications of genetics research never gets beyond the depth of a Discover magazine article but it does an excellent job of introducing the movement to a larger audience without taking a strong stance on the practice.

Marcus Wohlsen is a science journalist and that the book
Mar 05, 2011 David rated it it was amazing
It was great to win this first reads.

The book was fascinating, it's astounding to hear about the research, innovation and experimentation being done whether it's for the simple joy of it or to make the tools and medicines available to those who need them. It was hard not to get caught up in the enthusiasm of the author and of the DIY folk's community. Whether it be the tinkers, the visionaries, or the inventors they form an outsider movement making discoveries beyond the gilded guarded walls of
Mar 25, 2011 Gregg rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
I won this book in a Goodreads First Reads Giveaway. Thank you!

I spent an unusually long time reading this book, because I could only read a few pages then have to set the book down to process what I had read. I really enjoyed learning about the "biopunks" doing science in their garages, basements and converted warehouses. I appreciated the distinction made between genetic engineering and genetic modification. Some of the featured scientists in the book describe a fascinating vision for the futu
Oct 13, 2011 Kirsten rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction
I don't know why, but I had big hopes for this book--that I was going to learn about cool, revolutionary stuff people were doing in their own homes. It's punk! It's DIY! I love those things. But, alas, no. As someone who works in the field and outfits labs (and knows how complicated the whole thing is), I should have known better. The science is beyond simple, "transhumanism" (eliminating aging and enhancing human capacity) is retarded, the hyperbolic journalistic language equating the genetic c ...more
Feb 27, 2011 Lynn rated it it was amazing
Thank you goodreads for chosing me to read your book. I wasn't too sure what this book was going to be about and I was a little hesitant to open it up to read. The book was very informative and explained the world, as we know it today, as biology hackers. The men and women who devote themselves to science in their make-shift laboratories in their homes, their garages and small laboratories. I truly was not informed about this culture and the endless potential that this world has to offer in the ...more
Books the cat
A good primer about the state of the science of biohacking. And the state of the ethos. The author interviewed some great people, and I loved reading about them. However, I wished the book didn't repeat its explanations of the tension between biohacking's risks and rewards, and the tension between open source attitudes and proprietary attitudes so much.
Aug 20, 2015 Cyndie rated it liked it
Recommended to Cyndie by: Mid-Continent Public Library
Shelves: non-fiction
So, basically people are trying to make it so that you don't have to pay a big huge corporation to test your own DNA or develop genetic therapies. Apparently it's not very scary since you can much more dangerous stuff using chemistry than you can using biology. That being said, I think it's fair to say that self-replicating badness has a much greater chance of going REALLY bad. Interesting book written by a popular news writer so written in an engaging, interesting way.
Mar 23, 2011 Kathy rated it liked it
Near the beginning of the book the author postulates that biology will be to the twentieth century what physics was to the twentieth. It is intriguing to think about biotech having that large of an impact in our lives. To someone less familiar with biology than physics or chemisty it is also slightly frightening. How exactly would biotech change the future and would it change us, humans and who we are? Biopunk answers some of these fears, explaining how garage biologists are helping us learn all ...more
Beth Robinson
This was a very interesting popular science book about amateurs approaching biological research and both the attitude and equipment involved with that frontier. I'm reading it 5-6 years later and am curious how the field has advanced since then.

Wohlsen blended the science, the personal stories, and the monetary aspects (important for a field requiring sterility and, typically, expensive equipment) well and kept me interested in the different variations. He also spoke to the attitudes about how
Cardinal Biggles
Dec 08, 2015 Cardinal Biggles rated it really liked it
"Biopunk: Solving Biotech's Biggest Problems in Kitchens and Garages" - a book about doing genetic engineering at home? Well, it focuses less on the How and more on the Who/Why, with a bit of "Is Biopunk Really A Good Idea?" at the end. A little bit disappointing that some of the characters covered under Who are decidedly UNpunk trust fund babies or PhD's. A variety of When/Where/What in Biopunk is brought up, and although everything could possibly be organized a bit better, this book is a great ...more
May 12, 2011 Kenneth rated it liked it
Shelves: science, first-reads
This is an interesting book, a glimpse into the little-known world of DIY biology. BioPunk reads like a series of newspaper articles, looking at examples of scientists both inside and outside of the science "establishment" who are taking biology to new heights. From a man-made bacteria to a home-brewed DNA test and an experiment in which you can extract strawberry DNA in your own kitchen, this book covers a lot of ground and is a great introduction to the field. My only two complaints are the he ...more
This book looks at a burgeoning movement that is trying to democratize the current revolution in biology so that biotech becomes as ubiquitous and as easy to use as the computer. From open source hardware to a biotech company started in a kitchen, the book looks at both the opportunity and the risks in this brave new venture. It is absolutely fascinating to think about a world where we could all use the cell to make amazing things happen. However, the risk of creating a superbug that could kill ...more
May 04, 2012 Nick rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
I received this book through a First Reads giveaway.

I am a research scientist in biology, and I found this book to be a very interesting read. The things we are capable of doing in our own homes is pretty amazing. It's nice to see a book on a topic like this, hopefully it will create interest in some biological hobbyists out there.

The details may be difficult for non-scientists to grasp; you had better have at least taken a course in biology if you want to understand this one. This is not a pro
Jun 15, 2011 Michelle rated it it was ok
I was really excited to read this book, and really disappointed when it turned out unable to hold my attention. After some thought, I've concluded that the difficulty lay in sustaining interest in something without fully understanding it. A primer on DNA & its manipulation (define what "gene splicing" actually entails, etc.) would have helped me imagine what the biohackers described in the book were actually doing. As it was, I got lost in technical jargon I couldn't *quite* grasp. My backgr ...more
Kevin Murphy
Mar 15, 2011 Kevin Murphy rated it really liked it
Biopunk was an interesting window into the world of DIY biotech, a branch of science that has the potential to bring about the next technological revolution. Marcus Wohlsen does an admirable job of highlighting the myriad of issues surrounding the new research being done and those people doing it outside the normal institutions. His portraitures of the amateur scientists at work paints a clear picture of what these people are trying to accomplish and does much to wash away the innate fears that ...more
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“Some upstarts always try to get closer to the source of creation by ascending to the source's level. The story of Icarus is of course a parable about the folly of such an effort. Get too close to the sun and your hubris will get you burned. Yet in the eyes of twenty-first-century capitalist culture, which worships at the twin altars of the individual and technology, Icarus had initiative. And his melted wings do not represent some deep character flaw; he just needed better beta testers.” 3 likes
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