LAS VEGAS — Biohackers have gained notoriety with provocative stunts like injecting themselves with CRISPR, an untested gene therapy, and an experimental herpes treatment. At a gathering of some 150 biohackers here on Saturday, nobody injected themselves on stage — though a few did get magnets implanted under their skin during the conference’s happy hour.
To be sure, the Biohack the Planet conference featured plenty of the brash talk and rage-against-the-machine attitude that has characterized a community built around bucking the conventions of mainstream science. But for the first time, the gathering — now in its fourth year — featured a hall of scientific posters and vendor booths, those hallmarks of any scientific conference. And on stage, leaders in the movement debated whether to embrace practices like publishing in journals, establishing their own peer-review system, and starting conversations with regulators. Sunday morning even featured a discussion about the possibility of creating a board of biohackers that would resemble the institutional review boards that sign off on traditional studies.
As one speaker, Gabriel Licinia, told the crowd: “I would like to propose that we grow up a little bit.”
biohackers = the hillbillies of science
Biohackers will probably have a string of failures, some of which will likely be grotesque, but they may have the odd success that is quite valuable to other people. I hope they aren’t ripped off by big pharma when that happens.
Grotesque in what sense? Real life genetic experiments (even government-funded ones) don’t naturally allow for body-horror level transformations or home brew superplagues. The worst thing that can happen if you screw up a transfection is that the organism dies or the mutation doesn’t take (this happens WAY more frequently in DIY than in structured organisations).
There are many examples of *deliberately* grotesque gene modifications, specifically in the field of developmental biology, but these are carefully engineered for the study of singular aspects of organism development.
The most “grotesque” things I can think of that have come out of DIY Bio so far is idiots getting gangrene from finger magnets or damaging their eyeballs with DMSO. The biochemical and mechanical self-mutilation of some of the more troubled / moronic members of the group is of greater immediate safety concern than the potential for inadvertently creating sci-fi monstrosities. =(
Cancer, organ failure, psychological problems, blindness, there are all sorts of things that can go wrong.
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