Biological Hacking: “Frankenstein” in the 21st Century

The pioneering work of science fiction, the work “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley, the poet Shelley’s wife, constructed a science for the world in which scientists put together different human bodies through experiments to have life and extraordinary powers. Weird image: Frankenstein’s monster. This work has sparked a constant debate about the boundaries of scientific innovation and the ethics of creating artificial life.

Neil Harbison, the artist known as “Living Teletubbies”

Biohacking is a collective term for a group of people who research and transform the body based on medical and biological sciences. They appeared in the first wave of the Internet and were known to the world through DIY biology, Grinder and other movements. Among them, some people are committed to popularizing biotechnology knowledge on the Internet; some people share the cutting-edge concepts and results in the laboratory with the public free of charge; some people use implants, injections, tattoos, etc. Renovation or upgrade of learning.

Garage inventor
Biological hackers are often referred to as “garage biologists.” Most of them conduct independent research and are motivated by their passion for biology. They usually collect information and purchase experimental equipment on the Internet, and conduct low-cost biological experiments in their basements or garages. Although the threshold for these experiments is low, there are no shortage of important results obtained by outstanding talents.

Jack Andraka invented the early screening test for pancreatic cancer

Jack Andraka used to be an ordinary American teenager. Because of his uncomfortable personality, his school life was not pleasant. When Jack was 13 years old, his uncle Ted, whom he regarded as a spiritual pillar, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Because it was difficult to screen for pancreatic cancer, it was already at an advanced stage when it was discovered. Uncle Ted died soon. His death gave Jack a huge mental shock and also prompted him to establish his determination to overcome early screening for pancreatic cancer.

Since medical knowledge is basically blank, Jack’s learning can only be done by searching for medical knowledge shared by other biohackers or research institutions. After a lot of study, analysis and comparison, he decided to use the method of measuring “mesothelin” protein to try out a test paper for screening pancreatic cancer. Suffering from the lack of experimental conditions and equipment, he could only mail his experimental plan to many university laboratories and well-known medical experts in order to borrow laboratories. In the end, Professor Metra of The Johns Hopkins Hospital gave Jack a chance.

The early screening test paper for pancreatic cancer invented by Jack has a test accuracy rate of more than 90%; the cost of each test paper is about US$0.03, a single test only takes 5 minutes, but the sensitivity is more than 400 times higher than the previous version of the test. With this invention, the 15-year-old Jack won the first prize of the “Intel International Science and Engineering Expo” and was received by the then President Obama. Make good use of the Internet and be unyielding; make bold assumptions and carefully verify-this is the spirit of biohacking.

Forerunner of Demon Change Body
stronger! healthier! Live longer! Exceeding the limits of the body is always the goal that people are pursuing unremittingly. In today’s highly developed science, some technological hackers have implanted themselves into more functional body parts.

In some “superhero” stories, the protagonists are either gifted or have adventures. Among their opponents, there is no shortage of Frankensteins who have carried out “magical reforms” on themselves to surpass human strength.

Before the biohacking reform, human implants were mainly prostheses, steel plates, pacemakers, etc. for single-functional medical applications; with the deepening of research on artificial organs, electrodes, drug pumps and other equipment began to be implanted in the human body. , The research directions and implants of biohacking are even more diverse.

Neil Harbison, the co-founder of the Biochemical Human Foundation and the artist known as the “Teletubbies”, suffers from congenital color blindness. Desire to feel the color, in 2004, as a biohacker, he implanted a chip in his skull and connected the chip to a sensor on his head. Since then, Harbison can use the sensor camera to convert the received colors into sound waves of different frequencies that vibrate the skull, thereby “hearing” the colors.

He can also directly perceive signals that cannot be directly observed by the naked eye, such as infrared rays. In the same year, the photo of Harbison who used this device was adopted as the photo of his passport, which was equivalent to issuing a passport to his semi-cyborg identity—a landmark event that biohacking possessed.

New York University photography professor and artist Warfa Bilal is from Iraq, and his performance art works are usually related to photography. Bilal once designed a performance art work “The 3rd i” in 2010. He installed a 60-second time-lapsed titanium camera on the back of his head. It will automatically shoot, upload photos and live video, and record the artist at any time. What happened behind me. However, due to some adverse physical reactions and social pressure, the “third eye” on the back of his head was forced to be removed.

Bilal installed a 60-second time-lapse titanium camera on the back of his head, and shot a set of artwork “The 3rd i” (right)

/ Before supporting technologies such as wireless charging and security encryption are fully mature, human implants are still risky. /

As the most convenient body in daily life, the arm is naturally also the focus of bio-hacking. The famous biohacker Tim Cannon implanted a small mobile phone-sized Bluetooth chip in his arm. It can detect vital signs such as pulse, blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature and external environmental parameters at any time and upload it to the mobile phone. When the sign parameters are abnormal, The phone will alarm the first time. He also implanted cool devices such as magnets and LED lights on his body.

Aimo Grafostera, the founder of the biotechnology company “Dangerous Things”, implanted a chip based on RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology on his wrist. Through the double verification of biological characteristics and radio frequency signals, he can Quickly pass safety identification and complete daily operations such as opening doors and swiping cards that require a certain amount of time. Grafostera has also applied this technology to company employees and has sold tens of thousands of pieces of equipment worldwide.

Professor Struck of Curtin University, Australia, cultivated an ear derived from his own cartilage and bone marrow using cell culture technology on his arm. His goal is to install a Bluetooth microphone and GPS system on the “third ear” to broadcast the received sound to the world.

These human implants also come with risks. Surgery to implant objects in places with limited medical conditions may be accompanied by symptoms such as infection, redness, swelling, and inflammation. Even if the transplant conditions are good, the implant may trigger the body’s rejection of foreign bodies in the body. The energy of the implant is also a problem. If the energy is exhausted, the energy can only be removed by surgery, which will cause second-degree damage to the body. Unprotected signal sources may also be manipulated by cyber hackers. Before supporting technologies such as wireless charging and security encryption are fully mature, human implants are still risky.

Lethal Gene Scissors
On April 29, 2018, in the floating warehouse of a spa in Washington, 28-year-old biohacker Yaron Cui Weike, the CEO of biotechnology company Dominant Bio, was found to have stopped breathing.

Just over two months ago, at a biohacking forum held in Austin, he injected himself in public with a dose of a gene-editing drug for herpes that had not been clinically tested by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Whether his death is directly related to this illegal drug is still a mystery.

/ A large number of biohackers have devoted themselves to the research of genetic medicine. /

Gene editing agents have appeared in large numbers, and the theoretical basis is based on a paper published in June 2012 by two female scientists: Emmanuel Charpentier and Jennifer Mordner. The paper mentions about a restriction endonuclease CRISPR-Cas9 technology that can cut any DNA strand. CRISPR-Cas9 has since been called “gene scissors”. It is one of the most important biotech discoveries in the 21st century. It has wide practicability in the fields of biology, medicine, agriculture and animal husbandry, and chemistry. Therefore, it was discovered that Charpentier and Dadna shared the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

RFID technology-based chips implanted in the palms of “dangerous things” employees of biotech companies

Because the “gene scissors” technology is relatively simple, online tutorials are easy to obtain, and the hardware requirements of the experimental site are not high, users with a certain degree of scientific literacy can complete the relevant experiments at home. As a result, a large number of bio-hackers devoted themselves to the research of genetic medicine. For example, Cui Weike, who has already passed away, used genetic scissors to try to edit the N6 antibody that can greatly inhibit the virus in an HIV patient, and help him recover his health.

Joshua Zanna, the founder of the biotechnology company “Odin”, is a former NASA employee. At a bio-hacking conference, he injected himself with a genetic drug derived from the “muscular Belgian blue cow”. He wanted to eliminate the protein that inhibits muscle growth in the left arm and make the muscles of the left arm longer than the limit of humans. . Zanna also used genetic scissors to make yeast that can emit fluorescence and brew beer that can emit light.

Although the gene scissors technology has opened a window to many ordinary people who are interested in biology, it can be seen that it is also full of unknown risks like a Pandora’s box. Using this technology to edit genes without a large number of clinical trials may have a domino-like chain effect on human health, or create dangerous and deadly viruses.

Professor Struck of Curtin University in Australia with the “third ear” on his arm

In the highly developed future of biotechnology, humans may only need an injection to acquire relevant knowledge and skills; to investigate or travel in extreme environments and implant microchips powered by controllable nuclear fusion technology + injection of water bear genes. It can automatically adapt to the environment; immunodeficiency and gene defect diseases can be quickly cured once discovered; through research on jellyfish and other organisms, human life span can also be greatly increased. A big step for mankind may come from every small step of scientists or biohackers.