The Future of biohacking
The history of biohacking is stranger than fiction. From a concept that started by exploring the limits of human physiology, biohacking has evolved into a way for people to control their health and their bodies. This is largely thanks to the internet and its ability to bring people together. Technologies such as 3D printers, sensors, and wearable technology are now making it easier for people to connect and share information about how to improve our health. People are now discovering that biology is truly just science and art and that they're capable of changing themselves using science and technology in the same ways as they would a painting. A concept that started from the pages of science fiction novels is now making its way into our everyday lives and becoming the norm. The question now is whether biohacking will ultimately have an even bigger impact on our lives.
Biohacking doesn't just happen. it's not something you can throw together on a whim and expect perfect results. It takes years of research and dedication to understand the fundamental mechanisms and processes of the human body and how they interact with their environments. It requires an understanding of genetics and how it can be used to change our appearance or our health. One such leap in knowledge was discovering DNA and how the ability to sequence it gave us the ability to manipulate and control genes to alter how we look or treat diseases. Once someone understood how DNA worked they were able to engineer DNA by editing the genetic code to create designer organisms or even create artificial lifeforms from scratch.
In 2005, Australian Craig Venter finished the first complete draft of the Human Genome Project. The project started in 1990 to map the entire human genome and find mutations that are linked to disease. Over the next decade, scientists sequenced the genomes of various organisms and began searching for disease-causing genes or protein-coding sequences in the DNA of other species as well. The project lasted over a decade before it was completed at the cost of over $3 billion. Although it was the largest and most comprehensive scientific undertaking in history, it failed to identify any genes that were directly responsible for causing disease or affecting a person's health. Researchers eventually concluded that genetics alone could not explain the complex relationships between genes and disease development. It was around this time that scientists started focusing on another approach - analyzing the chemicals present in the human body to identify specific patterns that correlate with disease development. This led to the birth of the field of metabolomics and the use of mass spectrometry as a tool for analyzing these molecules. Mass spectrometry (MS) is an analytical technique that uses an electrical field to break up large molecules into smaller pieces and then analyze the parts to determine which chemical elements are present. The resulting data can identify the components that make up a molecule and determine their relative abundance.
But biohacking has come a long way since those early days. Today we are in the midst of one of the most transformational periods in human history. The constant and rapid advancement of technology is opening up new avenues for innovation and creativity like never before.
However, the future outlook for Biohacking isn’t all rainbow and sunshine. There are real concerns about the efficacy and legality of being able to freely augment or enhance ourselves and the things around us. Either to be more potent or less so depending on the required result. Sadly, as with almost everything in life, if it can be used for good it also can be used for evil with just as much potency. Bioterrorism is a clear example of this. As a simple example, biohacking has been seen more widely used in the areas of terrorism. Bioterrorists who are focused on causing havoc could do so by far simpler means. “You don't even need to synthesize anything new,” says Eckhard Wimmer, a virologist at New York State University at Stony Brook who first demonstrated that the polio virus can be reassembled from tiny pieces of hereditary material. His work raised fears that rogue groups could create something similar, but he argues the complexity of the work is enough of a barrier. He also cites previous examples of bioterrorism, which required little understanding of genetics and its techniques. For example, 11 years ago several American federal politicians were sent anthrax spores through the post, something that required a lot less effort than trying to reactivate polio in the lab.
Similarly, the ricin toxin found naturally in castor beans has been manufactured and used as a bioweapon, but no use of synthetic ricin bacteria or man-made toxin has been heard of – it is much easier to isolate the poison from plants or seeds than produce it from genetically engineered organisms. Wimmer states that “Nature is the better bioterrorist,”.Of course, no one in the biohacking community wants to see any rogue biopunks creating headlines that would bring the entire community into disrepute. Plus there is a multitude of nice, well-meaning people to be found in this journey through the world of DIY biology. But there is no guarantee that there isn't anyone out there putting their criminal energy into biotech. But limiting the work and the opportunities of the former just because of fear of the latter will do nothing to change that.
And let's not forget that one of the driving forces pushing Biohacking forward is the promise of having bespoke solutions that can be tailored to each person's needs. Instead of taking treatments that work on a wide range of people you can have ones that are targeted to your unique biology. Remember you are one out of billions of other humans on the planet. So even if a drug works on 99.9% of the population. It would suck to be part of that 0.1% that is excluded. Even if this example may be overly dramatic we must recall that even the most common of treatments react differently to people of similar backgrounds.
Methods and materials, used in biohacking, are on the verge of becoming available to a wider public. It is the public who will have to decide how to use biotech in the future. To be able to do that, people need to have the opportunity to get to know and use it, rather than leaving the decisions about its future to the political, industrial, and scientific elites.
So yes, while this field is still in its infancy, the prospects are endless in both good and bad directions. What we need therefore is a framework that doesn’t limit the exploration of what is possible but at the same time allows such development to be done in a safe and ethical manner. But no, the irony of that is not lost on us, as the scientific process has never been one to play nicely with caution and boundaries.