About the Book
The Biohacker's Cookbook
by Cathal Garvey, © 2014, CC-BY-NC
This is a guide designed to help beginners explore the exciting and fast-growing field of synthetic biology, informally biohacking, using an essay-and-recipe format. Readers will be exposed to knowledge about life at the sub-cellular level, microbial genetics, and the design and deployment of synthetic DNA to create real-world projects.
Why a Cookbook?
Biohacking is a strong word, too strong for some. Even by those with the inclination, biohacking seems to intimidate, a word that implies pre-existing mastery and confidence.
There has been progress towards a newer moniker, "Biocoder", spearheaded by the masters of branded neologisms: O'Reilly Media. I actually support this, finding it to be a far more friendly term for the public image of the activity and the persons doing it. However, I also appreciate the ability of the word "biohacking" to capture attention and provoke questions early.
In this case, I want the questions to be "what mischief might these biohackers cook up?" and the answers, within, to be: things of curiosity, wonder, creativity, and public good. Provocation can be valuable if it exposes vulnerable fears and quenches them, and nothing better than a cookbook!
The Biohacker's Cookbook is a guide to the art of biohacking in a gentle, familiar format; that of recipes for everything from broths in which to cultivate bacteria or yeast, to buffers that induce a state of competence, allowing you to induce genetic changes in your cells. Recipes for PCR will help you to copy, modify or delete sections of DNA, and recipes for electrophoretic gels will help you to visualise the results.
Every chapter features background, context and musings to help provide a grounding for the successful execution of the recipes in a productive way. Sometimes, this necessarily has to step out of the "recipe book" frame and become more technical or didactic, for example when considering the practicalities of DNA design and cellular metabolism. To this, all I can offer is that performing a "recipe" is the best way to fully absorb and internalise the knowledge that at first will appear daunting.
What isn't the BHC?
For the sake of having a manageable book that can be read and appreciated by a beginner, much of the complexities of the cellular world are abstracted away or referenced only in passing. The BHC deals almost entirely with bacterial genetics and design, for example, eliding away the messy business of nuclei, mitochondria, chloroplasts, cell differentiation, tissues, organs, and multicellular organisms like animals and plants.
That's not to say that if you want to engineer your own plants you can't start with the BHC, indeed the BHC is an ideal place from which to begin your journey into biohacking. It is traditional to learn biotechnology techniques on bacteria first, then to progress to animal and plant cells, and the lessons from the BHC will be directly relevant to an expanded knowledge and skill set necessary for plants and animals.
The BHC does address some of the ethical and legal issues presented by the technologies wrapped up in synthetic biology, but it is also not a treatise on bioethics. For that, look elsewhere, or better yet learn how synthetic biology works, and make up your own mind.
How Best to Enjoy the BHC?
Get it on Leanpub! Or, clone this repository. At some point, when the BHC is finished, I'll put a Print-on-demand edition on a suitable service and offer a bound and beautiful pocket-book, sized to fit a labcoat pocket. :)