Digital Health

Crowdsourcing Science at TEDGlobal

TEDGlobal officially opened today with a focus on “Radical Openness,” or the breakdown of traditional boundaries via social networking, crowdsourcing, open sourcing, and collaboration.

This afternoon’s session looked at the rise of do-it-yourself invention and the virtual collaborative tools that are driving the growth of the new industrial revolution.

Digital health is seriously on the map at TED, and one of the areas gaining interest and controversy is genome mapping. Ellen Jorgensen, co-founder of community biolab Genspace, spoke about the DIY biotech movement as a model for the future of science and health research. Or, as she put it, “science literacy.”

Envisioning a neighborhood space for hands-on learning of science in an open atmosphere, she wanted to put the science in the hands of end users. Not surprisingly, this generated much controversy with the press, but it also sparked a global movement. Bio-hackers sprung up in community spaces around the world, creating labs to experiment with the ways in which genome science can provide information.

A scientist in Germany, for example, identified a neighbor who wasn’t picking up after his dog. He threw tennis balls to the dogs in the neighborhood, took samples of the saliva, compared it to the other, er, samples; and identified the dog owner. Another example? Identifying whether the food we’re consuming is what we really ordered. Is that really caviar from Beluga, and is that goat cheese really from a goat?

Jorgensen acknowledged that the work hackers are doing contributes to, but does not supplant, the work that professional scientists and labs are doing. Quoting recent U.N. research, the “positive outweighs the negative” in terms of whether an open biotech lab is safe, she said. There have been common code efforts created by the community, and the chance of an accident happening is “literally about as possible as a snowstorm in the Sahara,” Jorgensen said.

“It’s possible, maybe,” she said, “but I’m not going to build my life around the possibility.”

In the rapidly evolving field of personalized medicine, chemistry professor Lee Cronin asked the audience, “Can we app medicine?” By using open design software and a 3D printer, Cronin proposed, people could print molecules.

[via PC Mag]

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