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Biopunk (a combination of "biotechnology" and "punk") is a technoprogressive movement advocating open access to genetic information.[1][2] Biopunk hobbyists or biohackers experiment with DNA and other aspects of genetics.[3][4]

The related biopunk science fiction genre focuses on biotechnology and subversives.[5]


Further information: Biohacking
Further information: DIYbio

A biohacker is a biopunk hobbyist who experiments with DNA and other aspects of genetics.[3][4][6] A biohacker (or "wetware hacker") is similar to a computer hacker who creates and modifies software or computer hardware as a hobby, but should not be confused with a bioterrorist, whose sole intent is the deliberate release of viruses, bacteria, or other germs used to cause illness or death in people, animals, or plants (in the same way a computer hacker should not be confused with the more popular, yet erroneous, use of the term, describing someone who spreads computer viruses or breaks into computers systems for malicious purposes).[7]

Pat Mooney, executive director of ETC Group, is a critic of biohacking who argues that—using a laptop computer, published gene sequence information, and mail-order synthetic DNA—just about anyone has the potential to construct genes or entire genomes from scratch (including those of the lethal pathogens) in the near-future. He warns that the danger of this development is not just bio-terror, but "bio-error".[8]


Further information: DIYbio

The biopunk movement is a small intellectual and cultural movement, which encompasses a growing number of scientists, artists, and cultural critics who are organizing to create public awareness of how genomic information, produced by bioinformatics, gets used and misused. On the basis of a presumed parallel between genetic and computational code, science journalist Annalee Newitz has called for open-sourcing of genomic databases and declared that "Free our genetic data!" is the rallying cry of the biopunk.[1][2] Biological Innovation for Open Society is an example of an open-source initiative in biotechnology aiming to apply open license for biological innovation.[9]

Self-described "transgenic artist" Eduardo Kac uses biotechnology and genetics to create works that both utilise and critique scientific techniques. In one of his works, Alba, Kac collaborated with a French laboratory to procure a green-fluorescent rabbit: a rabbit implanted with a green fluorescent protein gene from a type of jellyfish in order for the rabbit to fluoresce green under ultraviolet light.[1] The members of the Critical Art Ensemble have written books and staged multimedia performance interventions around this issue, including The Flesh Machine (focusing on in vitro fertilisation, surveillance of the body, and liberal eugenics) and Cult of the New Eve(In order to analyze how in their words "Science is the institution of authority regarding the production of knowledge, and tends to replace this particular social function of conventional Christianity in the west[10]) Contributors to Biotech Hobbyist Magazine have written extensively on the field.[11]

Biologist, speculative-fiction author, and self-described biopunk, Meredith L. Patterson is known for her work on yogurt bacteria within the DIYbio community, as well as being the author of "A Biopunk Manifesto",[12][13] which she delivered at the UCLA Center for Society and Genetics' symposium, "Outlaw Biology? Public Participation in the Age of Big Bio". This manifesto is modeled after "A Cypherpunk Manifesto" by Eric Hughes, which states the goals of the cypherpunk movement. The influence of the cypherpunks (a cyberpunk derivative like the biopunk subculture) on the biopunk community does not end there; Patterson's husband and long-time collaborator Len Sassaman was a cypherpunk contemporary of Hughes. Patterson and Sassaman have worked together on a number of biohacking projects and heavily promoted the continued legality of citizen science, both on moral and practical grounds.[14][15]

The biopunk movement is also a political dissident movement to the extent that the arrest and prosecution of some members for their work with harmless microbes, such as artivist Steve Kurtz, has been denounced as political repression by critics who argue the U.S. government has used post-9/11 anti-terrorism powers to intimidate artists and others who use their art to criticize society.[16]

Science fiction[edit]

Further information: List of biopunk works
Cover of Ribofunk by Paul Di Filippo, a seminal biopunk story collection.

Biopunk science fiction is a subgenre of cyberpunk fiction that focuses on the near-future unintended consequences of the biotechnology revolution following the discovery of recombinant DNA. Biopunk stories explore the struggles of individuals or groups, often the product of human experimentation, against a backdrop of totalitarian governments and megacorporations which misuse biotechnologies as means of social control and profiteering. Unlike cyberpunk, it builds not on information technology, but on synthetic biology. Like in postcyberpunk fiction, individuals are usually modified and enhanced not with cyberware, but by genetic manipulation.[5] A common feature of biopunk fiction is the "black clinic", which is a laboratory, clinic, or hospital that performs illegal, unregulated, or ethically-dubious biological modification and genetic engineering procedures.[17] Many features of biopunk fiction have their roots in William Gibson's Neuromancer, one of the first cyberpunk novels.[18]

One of the prominent writers in this field is Paul Di Filippo, though he called his collection of such stories ribofunk, a blend of "ribosome" and "funk".[19] In RIBOFUNK: The Manifesto,[20] Di Filippo wrote:

Why Ribo? Cybernetics was a dead science when cyberpunk SF was born, a cul-de-sac without living practitioners. Furthermore, the "cyber" prefix has been irreparably debased by overuse, in vehicles ranging from comic books to bad movies. The tag now stands for nothing in the public mind but computer hacking and fanciful cyborgs such as Robocop. And Weiner's actual texts do not provide enough fruitful metaphors for constructing a systematic worldview. Why Funk? Punk was a dead music when cyberpunk SF was born, a cul-de-sac albeit with living practitioners who just hadn't gotten the message yet. The music's nihilistic, chiliastic worldview had already culminated in its only possible end: self-extinction. What is Ribofunk then? Ribofunk is speculative fiction which acknowledges, is informed by and illustrates the tenet that the next revolution--the only one that really matters--will be in the field of biology. To paraphrase Pope, ribofunk holds that: "The proper study of mankind is life." Forget physics and chemistry; they are only tools to probe living matter. Computers? Merely simulators and modelers for life. The cell is King!


Di Filippo argues that precursors of ribofunk fiction include H. G. Wells' The Island of Doctor Moreau; Julian Huxley's The Tissue Culture King; some of David H. Keller's stories, Damon Knight's Natural State and Other Stories; Frederik Pohl and Cyril M. Kornbluth's Gravy Planet; novels of T. J. Bass and John Varley; Greg Bear's Blood Music and Bruce Sterling's Schismatrix.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Newitz, Annalee (2001). "Biopunk". Archived from the original on 2002-12-20. Retrieved 2007-01-26. 
  2. ^ a b Newitz, Annalee (2002). "Genome Liberation". Retrieved 2007-01-26. 
  3. ^ a b Katz, J.S.: "Roses are Black, Violets are Green", New Scientist, 6 January 1990
  4. ^ a b Katz, J.S.: "That which is not Forbidden is Mandatory", BioTech Educ, 4(1), 1990
  5. ^ a b Quinion, Michael (1997). "World Wide Words: Biopunk". Retrieved 2007-01-26. 
  6. ^ Baker, Pam (2011-05-05). "Playing God in Your Basement". Genome Alberta. Retrieved 2012-01-20. 
  7. ^ Schrage, Michael (1988-01-31). "Playing God in Your Basement". Washington Post. Retrieved 2007-02-04. 
  8. ^ ETC Group (January 2007). "Extreme Genetic Engineering: An Introduction to Synthetic Biology" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-09-28. 
  9. ^ "BiOS". 
  10. ^ "Critical Art Ensemble". 
  11. ^ "Biotech Hobbyist Magazine". 
  12. ^ "Radio Free Meredith - A Biopunk Manifesto". 
  13. ^ "Maradydd's Biopunk manifesto". 
  14. ^ Tyson Anderson. "Darning Genes: Biology for the Homebody". h+. 
  15. ^ Rise of the Garage Genome Hackers, New Scientist
  16. ^ Scientist pleads guilty to mailing bacteria for 'bio-art'
  17. ^ Pulver, David L. (1998). GURPS Bio-Tech. Steve Jackson Games. ISBN 1-55634-336-1. 
  18. ^ Paul Taylor. "Fleshing Out the Maelstrom: Biopunk and the Violence of Information". Journal of Media and Culture. 
  19. ^ Fisher, Jeffrey (1996). "Ribofunk". Retrieved 2007-01-26. 
  20. ^ a b c Di Filippo, Paul (1998). "RIBOFUNK: The Manifesto". Retrieved 2011-01-05. 

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