Team:PKU Beijing/Human/Survey


Human Practice > Survey


  • Introduction

DIYbio is becoming more and more popular these days. How to guide DIYbio, as a novel and promising mode for biological research, towards a normalized road is an urgent issue waiting to be settled. Thus it’s important to understand the related situation and predict the development trend, which are also instrumental for the government to formulate corresponding policy.

In order to evaluate the probability of conducting DIYbio experiments in China, we have launched a survey to investigate the availability of necessary experimental materials to DIY at home. By analyzing the results, we expect to propose some instructive advices and reach a simple conclusion.

  • Methods

Many teams conduct investigations by handing out online questionnaires this year. Investigations on the Internet may be a convenient method to obtain adequate data to analyze, however, they also have a fatal flaw that the validity of their results can not be ensured. Firstly, the composite structure of netizens is not necessarily the same as our research subjects. What if our expectant respondents have no access to the Internet? Secondly, the authenticity of the results is also doubtful. There is no such a mechanism to guarantee that the responsive netizens have reflected their viewpoints truthfully in the questionnaire, instead of filling it casually. In other words, no one can engage for the objectivity. Thirdly, behind the large number of respondents, however, the number of non-responsive visitors can not be estimated accurately. If the ratio of respondents is small, the survey is still not representative sufficiently.

In order to obtain valid result to analyze, we have adopted a novel but more reasonable method:

We conducted a sampling survey by telephone to inquire into 17 biotech firms about their provision for orderers. Telephone numbers of companies of different places, different dimensions and so on are randomly searched in Internet. Basic kits of molecular biology like the miniprep kit, gel extraction kit, PCR purification kit and so on, restriction endonucleases like EcoRI and DNA dye ethidium bromide are chosen as our objects of study. We asked these companies to deliver the goods which they have to a team member’s home in a community in Beijing. To obtain more authentic and credible result, the order would only be cancelled later if the business deals were confirmed to be permitted.

  • Results

Mindful of the secret and privacy, we have concealed the names of these 17 biotech firms.

Fig1. Local distribution of the investigated biotech firms.

In view of the universality of our results, companies from several largest city in China, like Beijing and Shanghai, and companies from other cities were both contained in our inquiry. Agencies of several international biotech firms are also included.

Fig2. Broad picture of order acceptance rate.

Let’s have a look at the general situation first. To our surprise, there is only one among the 17 companies rejected our order, declaring that they can only accept an order from regular companies or professional research institutes like laboratories in colleges and universities. Other companies still took up our order as we stated our “DIY at home” idea, although some of them hesitated a little.

The item-by-item investigation results are shown as follows:

Fig3. The distribution of kits order acceptance rate.
Fig4. The distribution of Ethidium Bromide order acceptance rate.
Fig5. The distribution of nucleases order acceptance rate.

Besides kits and reagents, we also ordered primer from a company, and the primer is required to be delivered to one of our team member's home. Since primers are cheap, we didn't cancel the order. Several days later, the primer is successfully delivered.

  • Discussion

From the results we can plainly see that basic molecular experiment materials are accessible in China, of course, without regard to financial matter. Therefore conducting a DIY molecular experiment at home seems to be less difficult than we estimated before. With the various kits, nucleases and essential dyes, we can carry out fundamental gene cloning operations like cutting and splicing the plasmids expediently. However, this result brings about further worries to us. As the investigation results showed, even severe toxic dye like ethidium bromide can be sent to a community as the client’s wishes. Ethidium Bromide, as a mutagen intercalating double stranded DNA and deforming the molecule, may cause severe unknown consequences, especially for those general public who lack the knowledge to dispose such toxins.

  • Suggestion

Potential hazards are revealed by our survey, which should draw the attention of the government and other relevant departments. What we suggest are:

1. Correlative laws should be formulated as soon as possible, to normalize the transaction of biological experiment materials.

2. Interrelated biotech firms should also promulgate essential provision, to define the customer scope. As for individual clients, their order should be inspected carefully and the suppliers undertake the responsibility to check out their purposes.

3. A supply rating according categories and safety should be established for individual clients, safer materials like kits and nucleases may be permitted to free trade, while hazardous materials like ethidium bromide and competent cells from various strains should be strictly controlled by the government. At least an application and a safety protection declaration should be required when applying to purchase these products.

4. The significant role of community committee should not be neglected, too. A specialized DIYbioers administration section in a community may be the most direct, also possibly the most effective, fashion to manage the biohackers.

  • Conclusion

As the biohackers are not nearly the mainstreams of researchers, the social attention is not paid enough. However, relevant legislations should still come out soon to prevent potential danger, since the result of our survey shows that as long as one has money, one can get kits and reagents for experiment use. Becoming a novel research fashion to attract broad masses or a facilitated way to produce biochemical weapons? How to use the double-edged sword, the power of decision is held by ourselves.