Hacking, a term now associated with technology, gained its current meaning in the 1950s when MIT students referred to working on technology as “hacking.” Today, the image of a hacker is often one of a computer programmer that is tapping into systems and accessing information they shouldn’t, but in reality, a hacker is just someone who is cutting and splicing technology into new shapes and forms. Indeed, this idea of breaking things apart and putting them back together again ties into the original definition of hack, which is to “cut or sever with repeated irregular or unskillful blows.”
When it comes to biohacking, a more recent development in science, it involves combining the idea of hacking with biology. In today’s world, biohacking falls into a few distinct categories: 1) grinders, who implant technology in their body, 2) health hackers, who use a combination of diet and activity to improve their bodies, 3) DIY biologists, who work in genetics and work on combining different species’ genetic codes, and 4) researchers and participants in nootropics, a field dedicated to improving cognitive function that is so new that a term like “nootropicist” has yet to be accepted.
So what does the biohacking industry look like in 2017? Here are 4 biohacking facts you should know about:
1. Grinders don’t use anesthetic
Grinders have yet to receive widespread acceptance, but many of them are out there now. From a magnet in their finger to sense magnetic fields to thermometers to microchips that can act as key cards, grinders are implanting all kinds of technology in their bodies. However, none of these biohack implants are FDA-approved, so doctors aren’t performing the procedure. This means no anesthesia because whoever does the implanting likely won’t have a medical license. Instead, grinders turn to tattoo artists or even do it themselves to get the job done. If you want to become a real-life cyborg, you’ll have to embrace some pain to get there.
2. Nootropics are all the rage in Silicon Valley
Always looking for the next life hack to boost productivity, entrepreneurs in San Francisco have taken to nootropics to get an edge over their competition and work longer, more productive hours in the hyper-growth tech industry. This behavior has been a trend ever since Bulletproof Coffee appeared in 2009: workers in the tech industry have turned to ingesting odd foods or even fasting once a week, all in the name of increasing productivity. Now entrepreneurs have taken to nootropics, untested cognitive enhancers that make them smarter. There are numerous companies selling nootropics, and some have raised substantial funding, such as Nootrobox, which received $2 million from Andreessen Horowitz. It remains to be seen whether different nootropics’ combinations of chemicals actually work, but people are nevertheless buying into them, believing that ingesting these chemicals will take their work day to the next level.
3. Scientists can make human tissue out of plants
Pelling Laboratory for Biophysical Manipulation at the University of Ottawa has managed to create a human ear out of a carved apple. In essence, the lab killed and sterilized the apple, leaving a cellulose structure with gaps where the apple cells used to be, and then carved it into the shape of a human ear. They then introduced human cells to the structure, which multiplied and filled it, creating a human-apple hybrid. This technology is in its earliest phase, but upon further development, this technology could become a new means of growing new tissue for grafts and replacing damaged tissue. The possibilities of Pelling’s technique become more profound when you consider that the cheapest option for growing tissue currently on the market is priced at roughly $800 per cubic centimeter. Pelling’s apple technique, on the other hand, costs less than 1 cent for the same amount, meaning that tissue replacement could suddenly become a feasible and affordable option for lower economic classes around the world.
4. Anyone can become a biohacker
Biohacking sounds complicated, and sure, creating an ear out of an apple is quite difficult, but anyone can be a biohacker. If you’ve ever tried cutting sugar or gluten out of your diet, you’re a biohacker. Getting a pacemaker, contacts, or hearing aids, all mean that you’re a biohacker. While some question whether biotechnology should be available to the masses, it’s currently possible to start your own lab and biohack genetic code. Projects like The ODIN connect aspiring scientists with affordable tools and everything they need to start their own lab in a garage, and it’s perfectly legal. It’s incredibly difficult to create something dangerous by splicing together different genetic codes, so concern is low. Instead, this community of DIY geneticists and biologists are experimenting to drive progress forward and hopefully one day achieve enough small breakthroughs to change the biohacking industry as a whole.
Are you a biohacker yourself? Where do you think the industry is heading in the latter half of 2017? Leave a comment below!