Biohackers: irresponsible showboats trusting homeostasis to keep them alive

Look. When this guy thinks maybe biohacking has gone too far, you know biohacking has gone too far.

Zayner is no stranger to stunts in biohacking—loosely defined as experiments, often on the self, that take place outside of traditional lab spaces. You might say he invented their latest incarnation: He’s sterilized his body to “transplant” his entire microbiome in front of a reporter. He’s squabbled with the FDA about selling a kit to make glow-in-the-dark beer. He’s extensively documented attempts to genetically engineer the color of his skin. And most notoriously, he 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 during an October conference. (Experts say—and even Zayner himself in the live-stream conceded—it’s unlikely to work.)

Josiah Zayner has done lots of stupid stunts. Now he calls himself a “social activist”, which apparently in his mind means someone who does irresponsible and ineffective stunts to provoke the public to be similarly irresponsible. Now he’s waking up, a little bit, to what he’s been doing.

I didn’t realize what my actions could result in. I’m just starting to come to grips with that.

Biology is really, really complicated, minor changes can have radical consequences, and we don’t understand 90% of it. OK, 95%. Maybe 99%. When people’s lives are at stake, you poke at it very, very cautiously, because you don’t know what kind of cascading systems failure you’re going to trigger. The system does exhibit a lot of resilience that helps maintain equilibrium, which means these showboats can play games that mostly do nothing, giving the misleading idea that they’re harmless, but all it takes is one accident to set everyone back. Responsibility is an important concept in science.


  1. Oggie. says

    Sounds like a super hero movie. Random man injects himself with magic serum and, BOOM!, he’s out shopping for a colourful spandex body suit.

    And bravo to waking up to the idea that injecting yourself with home-made magic serums may not be such a good idea.

  2. A Masked Avenger says

    Yep. Not a biologist here, but this one seems clear. I’ve thought to myself before, “Wouldn’t it be neat if we fixed the GULO gene in an embryo, and made someone immune to scurvy?” From reading around, though, I noticed that one of the precursors to producing vitamin C is in fact hydrogen peroxide. Enough to give one pause: who knows what health complications could result from even this simple change?

    Still, immunity from scurvy is one of the steps to engineering a race of super-pirates.

  3. lumipuna says

    Still, immunity from scurvy is one of the steps to engineering a race of super-pirates.

    It’s probably easier to engineer super-pirates with conventional dietary needs, than to forget pirating and just try to overcome all the reasons why we need vegetables for a healthy diet.