What is the most popular form of Citizen Science?

Some want to make us believe it is SETI@home, 8 year olds being pressured by overenthusiastic teachers, or people in their backyards looking for comets.

As I already mentioned, the most popular Citizen Science, and moreover the most useful by far, is the gazillions of people trying out new psychoactive substances, carefully recording their reactions, producing them with ever more ingenious methods in their kitchens, breeding better forms of active plants, exploring drug-combinations, inventing better routes of administration, and so on and so forth – all in the quest to make the consumption of such substances, which will always be with us no matter how much it is prohibited, safer.

Nobody knows how many people are actively involved, but it is a huge number, and against all odds and misrepresentation in the media, their efforts are often of purer scientific integrity than what is going on in academia.

I already discussed the problem with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and the “war on drugs” effectively denying treatment to the poor. Today I want to present a partial solution: My call to all Citizen Scientists, but also ordinary scientists and hobby tinkerers interested in bio-tech, plant breeding, and similar hobbies. The following is perfectly doable today, as a side project or a full blown hobby similar to gardening, and it is not illegal (!). As long as you research, you will have never actually any sizable amount of isolated methamphetamine anywhere near you (again – if you do not know why we need to get amphetamines out cheaply to the many people with ADHD, read it here).

The deal is: my good old friend the ephedra plant (a story for another day) already produces ephedrine, and ephedrine only needs to lose a single oxygen atom, or “be hydrogenated”, to result in methamphetamine. This is by the way the usual route that underground chemists employ and it is also how it was first synthesized historically.

I believe that the following can be accomplished relatively fast if just there were a small community of people attempting this. A fraction of the size of some such communities, like those making rockets as a hobby and many other useless endeavors, would be sufficient. I volunteer to be the initial hub where people can exchange contacts in order to get started – however, somebody else should take over that role soon as I have too many projects going already as it is.

There are many other ways (say genetic engineering of the ephedra plant – but it grows darn slow – let me know if you have a good idea), but the most doable seems to me this plan:

Step 1: We figure out how to let the ephedra distachia plant’s cells survive in a usual bio-tech fermentor/er or some other way that can grow the cells faster than with the slow growing ephedra plant.

Step 2: 2.1) We come up with a cheap detection method for those cells/cell cultures that have any methamphetamine present at all. 2.2) Use basic genetic engineering (there are how-to-do-kits nowadays) to induce mutations. Some cells will hydrogenate the already present ephedrine or produce methamphetamine somehow directly.

Step 3: We plainly steer evolution, i.e. select the cell cultures that produce the most methamphetamine, the ones that are most viable, and so on.

(There should be plenty of alternatives, like putting the responsible genes into robust and fast growing cultures – once discussions get going, I am sure better ideas will develop.)

Let me stress again: you do not need to ever isolate the methamphetamine at any point or even just have so many cells around that there could be even potentially production of a total amount of methamphetamine that could get anybody high. All we need is to evolve a useful, rugged cell culture or breed a new plant, which is all perfectly legal. Once we have it, we give it away to anybody who wants it, free of charge, just like one hands around yoghurt cultures teaspoon wise. Anybody can now make as much as they want of it, privately, just enough to treat one’s own symptoms and to pass on the best cultures.

Once that stuff is out, the cultures that are good will be selected and viability further improved very fast – the profits of the drug cartels will plummet. And what are the feds going to do about it? Yeah, I know, they gonna make it illegal, of course, but that is the beauty of the plan: Firstly, those who initially started the project will not have anything to do with it anymore by then. Secondly, the patients who use it won’t ever have much of it either – no need to trust some dealer or cook a months supply. A culture that can produce maybe 60mg methamphetamine or the equivalent in amphetamine a day and that you eat half up every morning should basically be able to hide in a corner in the bread cabinet. ‘ADHD yoghurt’ will spread around the globe so fast, it will never be contained and hopefully inspire many more such projects (MDMA, you name it) until the “war on drugs” is won – by us and the drugs, as it will be anyways sooner or later, since the drug war can obviously only ever be won by the drugs.

For more inspiration, please look into what so called “garage biologist”, the vanguard of the do-it-yourself biology movement — DIYBio — are up to nowadays.

There is for example the project BioCurious, co-founded by Joseph Jackson, which tries to provide essential infrastructure and an environment for a new generation of technologists to acquire the skills needed to employ cheap genetic sequencing and synthesis. According to Jackson, today’s practitioners may be the equivalent of a 1970s garage computer club or the internet in 1993 just before the boom.

So guys, seriously, let’s spread the word and get started doing something useful for humankind instead of wasting your time on model trains or cacti breeding.

Let us get started with breeding ADHD Yoghurt.