When people talk about "empowering the consumer" they are usually talking about the Internet enabling something that was previously too hard or too expensive. Publishing a newspaper on a blog, or a book on Lulu.com are two good examples. However, the empowerment I had in mind for this post is a slightly different kind.
I am talking about ways for you to isolate human epithelial amniotic stem cells from the placenta all in the comfort of your own home. Am I kidding? Absolutely not. Read this marvelous post by my friend Attila Csordas, claiming that " isolating stem cells from the placenta is not more difficult than making a steak, and with proper preparation, investment and timing you can do it even at home..."
Welcome to open source science, welcome to do it yourself biology.
Welcome to the ultimate empowerment. If you read the the instructions in Attila's post, you can see that they are not impossible, but more importantly, each step is well documented with links into very useful information about each step. The know-how is out there for all to learn. And there will be a lot more of it coming.
Use your imagination here, and think what that could mean for the future. With so much information on the Internet and such ready access to scientific data, what Attila wrote about could very well be commonplace in 5-10 years. This is a world where people could be "playing around" with their own biology. I see two big impacts right away.
First, tinkering is the best way to invent things, and this would really push the envelope in scientific and practical discovery. Second, if you think governments are having a hard time figuring out the laws to govern file sharing, let's see how they'll deal with "amateur genetic engineering". This will be a huge issue. Imagine people coming up with "user generated biotechnology". Much better than the corporate biotechnology where its one drug fits all. The tools for it are getting cheaper and cheaper. There was a time woodworking tools were too expensive, there was a time where computing resources were too expensive, they are not anymore. Why can't the same cost curve apply to biotech tools? I can see it happening.
One final word on Attila's post. The concept of placentophagy. Now that's a word you won't read on Guy Kawasaki's blog. It's the "act of mammals eating the placenta of their young after birth". Apparently, it has all sorts of good effects on the body. Now, this blog has talked about many strange biological things. I wrote about a bat eating centipede, I put a video of an octopus hunting a shark, but nothing is weirder and more disturbing than that picture of a goat eating its own placenta. The animal is a herbivore and it's eating meat for God's sake. That is just pure horror.
Placentophagy...I'll paypal five bucks to whoever can use the word in a sentence in a creative way. Here is mine: "What was the name of that French restaurant that closed a week after it opened, wasn't it Lé Placentophagié?"