Just when you thought you had heard about every new thing that was happening, along comes biohacking. What is this you ask, and is this a good idea?
Biohacking is a relatively new field of exploration. Most of the time biohackers are not working in fancy government or university research labs. Instead, biohackers are more like the stereotypical Silicon Valley computer hacker who may be working in a cheap garage or co-working location. It often takes place in small labs where biohackers – who are usually not professionals – get together to explore, learn about, and experiment with biology. Sort of like high school biology club for adults, and without any meddling teachers to interfere with a fun experiment.
While the term “biohacking” was used as far back as 1988, it was only around 2005 that the movement began to gain traction.
What kind of cool hacking goes on in this techy world? How about manipulating genes to make a glow-in-the-dark plant? Not into plant biology? No problem. Biohacker and computer security professional Dave Asprey is experimenting on his own body. Asprey has developed a low-toxic coffee that he calls Bulletproof, takes supplements, and uses a headband to electrically stimulate blood flow to improve cognition.
Most biohackers are normal people who are just curious about biology and want to experiment in a lab. The motivations of biohackers may include curiosity, entertainment, medical research, life extension, and more.
It is possible to set up a lab at home with a combination of used and open-source equipment. Community laboratory spaces are also available in some cities which allows members access to professional laboratory equipment.
Needless to say, not everyone is a fan. What could possibly go wrong with amateur biology fans experimenting with plant and human genes? Plenty, according to some critics.
Since the field is relatively unregulated, there is concern that a well-intentioned biohacker could accidentally unleash a virus or some other pathogen. Then there is the concern that an ill-intentioned biohacker could develop and release something nasty without anyone being aware of it or knowing what had happened.
Another concern about biohacking is that a reasonably proficient biohacker could produce entire genomes from scratch using synthetic DNA (available through the mail), already published gene sequence information, and a computer. This biohacker could, at least in theory, use this combination to make some really nasty pathogens.
Ultimately, despite the concerns that may be raised about biohacking, it is an open question if it is even possible to stop its advancement. After all, most attempts at stopping progress seem to fail. Once a technology is developed it is very hard to turn back the clock.