Over the last few years, advances in science have made the kind of experiments once only accessible to PhDs with fancy labs far more attainable. College undergrads are constructing gene drives. Anyone can buy a kit on the internet to concoct their own bioluminescent beer.
The German government, it seems, is none too pleased with this development. Two weeks ago its consumer protection office issued a statement making clear just how upset it is: Any science enthusiast doing genetic engineering outside of a licensed facility, it wrote, might face a fine of €50,000 or up to three years in prison.
The law behind the German DIY bio crackdown isn’t new. The government was simply reminding so-called biohackers of a long-existing law that forbids genetic engineering experiments outside of laboratories supervised and licensed by the state.
“The statement has to be seen in light of the newly formed DIY biology scene and due to the appearance of low-priced DIY biology kits in online shops,” the BVL told Gizmodo, via email.
The BVL conceded that the new rules will make it virtually impossible for a lone scientist to meet the legal requirements to do genetic engineering. To begin with, any lab needs a project manager qualified by academic credentials such as a master’s degree in science. Labs also require a commissioner for biological safety who is similarly qualified.
“This makes genetic engineering experiments rather unattractive for individuals,” the BVL’s spokesman said.
On the one hand I understand the need for oversight and ethics, on the other hand, it should be a lot easier for individuals to play and learn in this field. It must be possible to balance the two needs.