Heritable human genetic modification has been the topic of the year so far, but another trend is edgy and interesting: non-heritable, but cutting edge forms of human modification that in some ways fall into the class of biohacking.
Biohackers are into do-it-yourself (DIY) forms of biology including self-modification.
Sure, people have been modifying themselves for thousands of years. Tattoos, hair changes, cosmetic surgery, tooth fillings and crowns, pacemakers and other medical implants. However, changing up one’s body has gone high-tech and DIY to include integration of the human body with computer chips for example (see image at right from here).
Meet Seth Wahle, who has an implant in his hand that allows him to hack your iPhone just by holding it. Wahle is a biohacker. According to a fun read piece by Rose Eveleth:
Wahle’s implant is an RFID chip, a tiny device that can hold small amounts of data and communicate with devices nearby.
The US military is very interested in high-tech implants of this kind for their soldiers, but biohackers bring it out into the wide world.
Some biohackers want to become cyborgs. See the above video, which is somewhat mind-boggling.
Biohacking can also involve garage-based or rented lab space-based biological experiments not involving oneself. Biohacking also intersects with the transhumanism movement, which seeks to promote the transcendence of humanity to a new, better plane where we are beyond human. Another element of transhumanism is self-editing where you change-up your own genetics via a kind of gene therapy.
I find biohacking to be very cool, but it also raises some possibly complicated ethical questions.
For example, if a friend were to make a type of mosquito in her garage that has firefly genes to make them glow in the dark so we can see them easier (before one bites us), and that friend releases (or there is accidental release of) the new type of mosquitos in fertile forms into the wild without any kind of regulatory approval, community notification, etc., what might happen?
Or she makes a fertile glow in the dark type of fish, which gets into a local stream or glowing birds fly out into the backyard trees?
If you think this kind of stuff couldn’t happen, you are mistaken.