Written by Sanidhya Gurudev
The evolution of the human body has been inevitable and constant, this is majorly due to the surroundings and the habitat of any organism, our body has been tuned to a specific environment and has its own limitations to specific things. But what if one day we can change the genetics of lizard and turn into something else, or even adding an RFID chip inside our palm so that we don't have to swipe our ID cards. This does sound too Complex or just too pathetic, either way, this is definitely how we can extend the limitation of our body called D.I.Y biology or widely known as Biohacking.
Where did it all start?
The term "biohacking", as well as the concept of do-it-yourself biology, has been known as early as 1988 when Kevin Wrwick (Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), Coventry University, had his first electronic implant a simple radio frequency transmitter was inserted in his body. According to him, it allowed him to open doors and switch on lights with a wave of his arm. To do it he had the assistance of his GP in the surgery, not only to burrow a hole in his arm but to make sure that the implant remained in place and that no infection occurred. This is essentially the same technology as is used in contactless payment cards except that it’s packaged in a small tube about the size of a grain of rice. Back in 1998, his RFID was almost an inch long and technology has clearly moved on since then.
Durability and reliability are no problem. Kevin’s colleague, Mark Gasson, had his RFID implanted in 2009 and it’s still working perfectly, with no rejection or operational problems. But you do need external technology to transmit power to the implant, which has no battery, and to communicate with it. In the last couple of years, they have seen a number of companies enter the fray, although a cynic might suggest that this has been more for publicity than anything else.
Since then after decades biohacking became popular on a small scale, forming communities and groups of people who extensively take care of their body with various biohacking methods.
What drives someone to “biohack” themselves?
On a really basic level, biohacking comes down to something we can all relate to the desire to feel better and to see just how far we can push the human body. That desire comes in a range of flavors, though. Some people just want to not be sick anymore. Others want to become as smart and strong as they possibly can. However, most people biohack themselves or someone else because of the curiosity to desire mainly in the field of genetics or immune systems of one's body, curing diseases, hierarchically developed problems, or just for the personal agenda which also adds some of the most common questions in our minds like Why not shoot for peak performance? Why not try to live forever? And etc are some of the major reasons why people thrive to biohack their body.
Biohacking the Environment Around You
Biohacking the environment around you is the more popular of the two, allowing people to quench their curiosity about certain ideas by letting them dive deep into experimentation and understanding the consequences and results of their experiment. With the growth of biohacking labs, federal governments have entered into agreements with the labs to limit human experimentation. However, this does not mean that human experiments do not take place in these labs. Most of these human experiments are limited to external organs or developing brain activity enhancing superfoods like bulletproof coffee.
Benefits of Biohacking
Biohacking has received a lot of flak for being a citizen hobby or pseudo-science however, one cannot deny the benefits of biohacking. Several experiments are working steadily towards solving everyday problems or finding cures for diseases. These experiments are conducted with the larger aim of developing a post-human world of advanced humanity, with superhuman capabilities. Maybe regeneration of a human body from any cognizable or any incognizable diseases or injury.
Risks and Ethical Concerns and Biohacking
The term hacking gives a negative connotation to the idea of biohacking. However, biohackers argue that they refer to the original meaning of hacking when they speak of biohacking. In the 1960s hacking was a creative, do-it-yourself, easy approach to seemingly complicated tasks. Biohackers thus claim that they are a positive movement, which only aims at providing hands-on learning to anyone who wants to learn.
Despite its futuristic outlook and results biohacking remains a largely unsupervised, dangerous if not illegal movement. Though the research and results produced by biohackers are groundbreaking, it also breaks several ethical codes on human experimentation and endangers the lives of several humans. Several federal bodies are trying to regulate biohackers without completely debilitating their efforts, however here are some experiments and their potential risk that no one is talking about:
1. Safety from Hazards:
Professional labs follow a detailed safety process to ensure that scientists and their work are in a contained and safe environment. Community labs, mostly function out of garages, and may not be safe from hazards and accidents, which have the potential of releasing some unknown strand of bacterial infection impacting a large population around. Such labs could also be ideal targets for bioterrorists for developing a dangerous cocktail of bioweapons.
2. Human Experimentation:
Even though these experiments are voluntary, the question remains if the volunteers knew what they were getting into. There are no provisions in the law to regulate death or grievous harm caused because of voluntary human experimentation in a group lab. Such situations are undefined, they may not be ethical but are not illegal, however, it puts the law in flux because these acts come in conflict with the basic human right to life.
How CRISPR can change the way biohacking functions
Hold up! We don't know what CRISPR is yet. Do we? So CRISPR is a technology that can be used to edit genes and, as such, will likely change the world.
The essence of CRISPR is simple: it’s a way of finding a specific bit of DNA inside a cell. CRISPR is a family of DNA sequences found in the genomes of prokaryotic organisms such as bacteria and archaea. These sequences are derived from DNA fragments of bacteriophages that had previously infected the prokaryote. They are used to detect and destroy DNA from similar bacteriophages during subsequent infections. After that, the next step in CRISPR gene editing is usually to alter that piece of DNA. However, CRISPR has also been adapted to do other things too, such as turning genes on or off without altering their sequence. you can read our article on CRISPR here.
There were ways to edit the genomes of some plants and animals before the CRISPR method was unveiled in 2012 but it took years and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. CRISPR has made it cheap and easy.
Well, that's what we can really know about it because I personally believe that CRISPR deserves its own article.
While there are many hurdles to using CRISPR on humans (for any purpose), those issues will likely be resolved one day, which would present serious ethical dilemmas. Should it be legal to edit your own genome? Moreover, is it moral? And what if the ability to edit oneself is prohibitively expensive? It is easy to imagine a world where only the rich can alter their genomes or those of their children. Do you want to be especially smart, strong, or good-looking? Luckily, there is still some time before that day comes. In a recent interview with author Sam Harris on his podcast “Waking Up,” one of CRISPR’s foremost pioneers, Dr. Jennifer Doudna, cautioned that a scenario where CRISPR is used for self-improvement “…is frankly not coming any time soon.” She also noted that “The thing I worry about the most is primarily just people getting out ahead of the technology itself.”
How AI can provide traction in Biohacking
Artificial Intelligence is something that is used in anything which includes the word “hacking”. On a serious note though AI has been used extensively in many pharmaceutical and biotech companies, which help them making vaccines and in the 3D printing organ manufacturing but apart from that AI can help in biohacking specifically by many programmable devices that people use and use to modifying their bodies like invisible earbuds for listening to the music that is surgically implanted in the pinna of our ears, RFID system chip that can be inserted in one’s body that easily open or unlock things easily when the person is just a meter away from the scanner. One of the coolest projects that have been out publicly for a while is a chipset that is attached to a person's chest and that chip vibrates when the person faces to the north. All of these projects are easily programmable with some scripts of python and other languages because it's called D.I.Y for a reason.
So far you might have understood the pros and cons of Biohacking. Who should do it if curious or just to make things easier or just wants to break the barriers of not just the inevitable death but also break the limitations of our body to program it the way we want it to. Again DO IT AT YOUR OWN RISK.