Beyond the Lab and Far Away: A View from Washington

Todd Kuiken

In the 1970 film Tora! Tora! Tora!, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto exclaims, “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.” This was in response to the successful 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor by forces of Imperial Japan. In spring 2013, a small project listed on Kickstarter that was part of the larger DIYbio movement awoke the US regulatory system with a dimly lit glowing plant. On May 7, 2013, The New York Times published “A Dream of Trees Aglow at Night”, which exposed those not paying attention to the power of crowd funding and the possibilities, albeit even with a novelty product, of biotechnology and the DIYbio movement. As I opened the door to my office that morning, my phone was already blinking, the first message from a US Senator’s office wanting to know how this type of product could escape regulatory oversight. As I hopped in a cab on my way up to Capitol Hill to brief the Senator’s staff, all I could think about was the quote from Admiral Yamamoto. Glowing Plant’s ability to raise half a million dollars in such a short period of time and the perception ...

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