domingo, 25 de febrero de 2018

Biohacking: the future of the biosciences?

Biohacking: the future of the biosciences?


Biohacking: the future of the biosciences?
Media outlets are in a frenzy over the latest quirky development in the biosciences – the advent of the so-called “biohacking” movement.

Biohacking, or do-it-yourself biology, attempts to take what have traditionally been university or institute-based scientific disciplines – molecular biology, genetics, bioengineering, and so forth – and make them more available to the general public.

Several grass-roots biohacking organisations have surfaced in the US in recent years, including biophysicist Josiah Zayner’s company The Odin. Zayner aims to make experimental biotechnologies available to the public – particularly equipment for genetic engineering. Some of his most successful products include a bacterial CRISPR and fluorescent yeast kit for making glow-in-the-dark beer, and a genetic engineering home lab kit (sold for just a touch under US$2000). In a recent interview with The Atlantic, Zayner commented:

One of my big problems with academic and medical science is [that] lots of stuff...won’t be available to the general public for 10, 20, 30, 40 years...How do you expect this technology go forward if they aren’t testing, playing around it?What is too early and what is too late? I don’t know if there’s an answer. I don’t know if I’m the correct one to ask that question. But maybe activists putting this knowledge out there, letting people know how easy and accessible it is, can spur people to push this stuff.
Critics of the biohacking movement say that many of the experiments performed are extremely dangerous, and promote irresponsible research practices. The US Food and Drug Administration recently issued a harshly worded statement cautioning consumers against DIY gene-therapy kits and calling their sale illegal.

Last October Zayner himself injected his arm with DNA encoding for CRISPR that could theoretically enhance his muscles—in between taking swigs of Scotch at a live-streamed event. He later said he regretted the stunt. “There’s no doubt in my mind that somebody is going to end up hurt eventually”.

Earlier this month, Aaron Traywick of Ascendance Biomedical – another biohacking company –injected himself with an untested herpes treatment at an event in Austin, Texas.


BioEdge is a bioethical gadfly, nipping and biting at what we perceive to be bad arguments and unhealthy developments. But the recent story about a Japanese man who fathered 13 children with the help of mothers hired in Thailand suggests that almost any bioethical approach is better than none – and “none” was the position of the Bangkok judge who awarded him custody.

"The petitioner is an heir and president of a well-known company listed in a stock exchange in Japan, owner and shareholder in many companies ... which shows the petitioner has professional stability and an ample income to raise all the children. Therefore, it is ruled that all the 13 children are legal children of the petitioner … and the petitioner is their sole guardian."
Any bioethicist would immediately comment that this decision ignores many important issues. Are children just property? What about the rights of the surrogate mothers? Is it right to raise 13 boys without mothers? Is it right to raise 13 boys together like cattle? Is wealth a substitute for parenting? Is fatherhood simply a matter of sperm donation?

It sounds as though the judge merely wanted to hand the boys over to Japan. In his words (as reported) I can detect no inkling of the fact that the issue is more complicated than a commercial property transaction. It sounds as though Thailand urgently needs bioethics education.

Michael Cook
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