Biohacking is the practice of engaging biology with the hacker ethic. Biohacking encompasses a wide spectrum of practices and movements ranging from Grinders who design and install do-it-yourself body-enhancements such as magnetic implants to do-it-yourself biologists who conduct at-home gene sequencing. Biohacking emerged in a growing trend of non-institutional science and technology development. Many biohacking activists, or biohackers, identify with the biopunk movement as well as transhumanism and techno-progressivism.
"Biohacking" can also refer to managing one's own biology using a combination of medical, nutritional and electronic techniques. This may include the use of nootropics and/or cybernetic devices for recording biometric data.
Biohackers largely identify with transhumanist and biopunk ideologies. Transhumanism is the belief that it is both possible and desirable to so fundamentally alter the human condition through the use of technologies as to inaugurate a superior post-human being.
Biopunk is a techno-progressive cultural and intellectual movement which advocates for open access to genetic information and espouses the liberatory potential of truly democratic technological development. Like other punk movements, Biopunk encourages the DIY ethic. "Grinders" adhere to an anarchist strain of biopunk that emphasizes non-hierarchical science and DIY.
Cyborgs and cyborg theory strongly influence techno-progressivism and transhumanism and are thus influential to the biohacking movement. Some biohackers such as Grinders and the British professor of cybernetics Kevin Warwick actively design and implement technologies which are integrated directly into the organic body. Examples of this include DIY magnetic fingertip implants or Warwick’s "Project Cyborg". Cyborg theory was kickstarted in 1985 with the publication of Donna Haraway’s influential "Cyborg Manifesto" but can be traced back all the way to Manfred Clynes and Nathan Klines’ article, "Cyborgs and Space". This body of theory criticizes the rigidity of ontological boundaries and attempts to denaturalize artificial dichotomies.
One of the larger biohacking movements is the DIY biology movement. This movement emphasizes DIY genetic experiments and open access to scientific and specifically genetic material. DIY biology advocates open source and biopunk ideologies. The DIY Biology movement attempts to make available the tools and resources necessary for anyone, including non-professionals, to conduct biological engineering. For example, low-cost thermocyclers such as OpenPCR have been created to make a crucial technology more widely available to the public. DIY biologists often conduct genetic engineering in garage or basement laboratories and often with the use of open source or home made equipment.
Another prominent stream of biohacking is the Grinder movement. Grinders practice DIY, biopunk, and open source transhumanism. "Grinders are passionate individuals who believe the tools and knowledge of science belong to everyone. Grinders practice functional extreme body modification in an effort to improve the human condition. [Grinders] hack [them]selves with electronic hardware to extend and improve human capacities. Grinders believe in action, [thei]r bodies the experiment". The Grinder movement is strongly associated with the body modification movement and practices actual implementation of cybernetic devices in organic bodies as a method of working towards transhumanism.
- Meredith L. Patterson, technologist and biohacker who has presented research with Dan Kamisky and Len Sassaman at many international security and hacker conferences.
- Kevin Warwick is a British scientist and professor of cybernetics who has been instrumental in advancing and popularizing cyborg technology and biohacking through his self-experiments
- Steve Mann is a professor of electrical and computer engineering who has dedicated his career to inventing, implementing, and researching cyborg technologies, in particular, wearable computing technologies. Mann has been critical to advancing biohacking through his self-implementation of his inventions.
- Natasha Vita-More is a lecturer, designer, and artist who through her work and writings is an outspoken advocate of transhumanism with biopunk leanings.
- Annalee Newitz is an American science and technology journalist who has written extensively on the biopunk and biohacking movements.
- Lepht Anonym is a biohacker and transhumanist known for its self-surgeries and material implementation of transhumanist ideologies.
- Ellen Jorgensen is a molecular biologist and co-founder of Genspace popular for her Ted Talk on Biohacking and her belief in public scientific education.
- Winslow Strong is a mathematician and physicist.
- Dave Asprey.
Groups and organizations
- DIYbio, "[...] an organization dedicated to making biology an accessible pursuit for citizen scientists, amateur biologists, and DIY biological engineers who value openness and safety".
- BioBricks Foundation, public-benefit organization creating publicly accessible standardized biological parts based on ethical and sustainable models.
- Genspace, community based lab in Brooklyn, New York providing scientific education
- Bio-hack me, forum dedicated to biohacking communications and cooperation. It is also host to a wiki of biohacking knowledge at collaborate.biohack.me.
- Counter Culture Labs: biohacking space in the East Bay (United States).
Laboratories of participatory biology
- La Paillasse, Paris (France).
- Univercité, Renens (Switzerland), opened in 2014. It includes the Hackuarium laboratory.
A popular project is the Glowing Plant Project, which intends to grow the arabidopsis plant with a bioluminescent gene naturally occurring in fireflies. The gene will be inserted into the plant through agrobacterium. The project intends to send investors merchandise, glowing plant seeds, glowing Arabidopsis, or glowing roses – depending on the amount of money invested.
Examples in popular culture
- The Island of Doctor Moreau
- Doktor Sleepless
- Uglies series
- Elysium (film)
- Iron Man
- Poison Ivy (comics)
- Terminator (franchise)
- Deus Ex (series)
Controversy facing biohacking
As regulations are non-existent within this field, a lack of regulations could mean the unregulated release of synthetic organisms – with unobserved and undocumented consequences based on human error. To address these concerns, in 2011, DIYbio organized conferences to attempt to create codes of ethics for biohackers.
Notes and references
- Greg Boustead (2008-12-11). "The Biohacking Hobbyist". Seed Magazine. Retrieved 2010-07-11.
- Popper, Ben. "Cyborg America: inside the strange new world of basement body hackers". Verge Magazine. Retrieved 2012-11-30.
- Erin Biba (2011-08-19). "Genome at Home: Biohackers Build Their Own Labs". Wired Magazine. Retrieved 2012-11-30.
- "Body Modifications and Bio-Hacking". collaborate.biohack.me. 2012-05-21. Retrieved 2012-11-30.
- Glen Martin (2012-06-28). "'Biohackers' mining their own bodies' data". SF Gate. Retrieved 2012-11-30.
- Phil McKenna (2009-01-07). "Rise of the garage genome hackers". New Scientist. Retrieved 2010-07-11.
- Patti Schiendelman (2009-01-01). "DIYBio for biohackers". Make: Online. Retrieved 2010-07-11.
- "Who We Are". collaborate.biohack.me. 2012-08-28. Retrieved 2012-11-30.
- "DIYBio Codes". DIYBio. 2011. Retrieved 2012-11-30.
- Eric (2013). "Tutorial to Track Mental Improvements with Nootropics". www.purenootropics.net. Retrieved 2013-12-10.
- Meredith L. Patterson (2010-01-30). "A Biopunk Manifesto". "Outlaw Biology? Public Participation in the Age of Big Bio.". Retrieved 2012-11-30.
- "Frequently Asked Questions". collaborate.biohack.me. 2012-11-13. Retrieved 2012-11-30.
- Bostrom, Nick (2005). "A History of Transhumanist Thought". Journal of Evolution and Technology. Retrieved 2012-11-30.
- Hayles, Katherine (1999). How we became posthuman : virtual bodies in cybernetics, literature, and informatics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-32139-4.
- Katherine Hayles (2011-09-11). "H-: Wrestling with Transhumanism". MetaNexus. Retrieved 2012-11-30.
- Newitz, Annalee (2001). Biopunk. Archived from the original on 2002-12-20. Retrieved 2007-01-26.
- Newitz, Annalee (2002). Genome Liberation. Retrieved 2007-01-26.
- "Oxford Journal of Design History Webpage". Retrieved 2007-09-24. "Yet, it remains within the subculture of punk music where the homemade, A4, stapled and photocopied fanzines of the late 1970s fostered the "do-it-yourself" (DIY) production techniques of cut-n-paste letterforms, photocopied and collaged images, hand-scrawled and typewritten texts, to create a recognizable graphic design aesthetic."
- Gray, Chris Hables (1995). The Cyborg Handbook. New York: Routledge. ISBN 978-0415908498.
- Warwick, Kevin. "Implants and Technology: The Future of Healthcare?". TEDxWarwick. TED. Retrieved 2012-11-30.
- "Projects". Grindhouse Wetware. Retrieved 2012-11-30.
- Clynes, Manfred; Klines (September 1960). "Nathan". Astronautics.
- Wikipedia contributors. "Cyborg theory". Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2012-11-30.
- OpenWetWare Contributors. "Main Page". OpenWetWare. Retrieved 2012-11-30.
- Andrew S. Wiecek (2010-08-24). "Cheap PCR: new low cost machines challenge traditional designs". Biotechniques.
- "Your Personal PCR Machine". OpenPCR.
- "Pocket PCR for pennies". LavaAmp.
- "Speakers Ellen Jorgensen: Biologist and Community Science Advocate". Ted. TED Conferences LLC. Retrieved 3 December 2013.
- Strong, Winslow. "Winslow's Bio". Biohack Yourself: Transcend Your Limits. Retrieved 3 December 2013.
- "'Biohackers' mining their own bodies' data". SF Gate. Retrieved 21 July 2014.
- The BioBricks Foundation
- La Paillasse (page visited on 22 June 2014).
- Univercité (page visited on 22 June 2014).
- Hackuarium (page visited on 3 August 2014).
- Evans, Antony. "Forum". Glowing Plant. Tumblr. Retrieved 3 December 2013.
- see here for another perspective on the aforementioned Glowing Plant Project. This controversy is discussed in the Genspace course "Environmental Release @#%!!!"
- "The role of codes of conduct in the amateur biology community". Retrieved 4 February 2014.
- Richard Thieme, "Hacking, biohacking and the future of humanity"
- "Biohackers: a journey into cyborg America"
- Kevin Warwick, "The last remaining hurdles to cyborg technology"
- Kevin Warwick, "Implants and technology — the future of healthcare?"
- Kevin Warwick, "Cyborg interfaces"