Posted by David Ishee on 28th Jan 2016

We are all BioHackers

This is a guest blogpost by Mississippi BioHacker David Ishee

What is a living thing but the expression of code being computed by reality? We're the manifestation of information moving through matter over time. Why not take control of that, why let chance determine what's written there? What about the life around us, why leave that code to chance? What about the viruses that rewrite our code for their own ends, or the code of the animals and plants we depend on?

My siblings and I were born with a genetic disease called a benign Genetic Neutropenia. We essentially didn't have immune systems until we each turned five. I spent the early part of my life in the hospital and the doctor’s office. Twice, I got bacterial blood infections around 1 year old and very nearly died. It was only thanks to the clever administration of a vaccine that stimulated my immune system into a response that I am alive. There is an error in my programming and it almost killed me and my brother and sister. I'd decided when I was young to never have children because I couldn't bear to suffer what my parents did. Life had other plans and luckily my daughter and son are healthy, as are my nieces and nephews, but they all likely carry that code and we have to watch carefully every generation. This is a very rare genetic disease and not something likely to get the attention of big pharmaceutical companies, especially when the regulations are so strict and the cost to invent a treatment is so high.

That's where the biohacker or citizen scientist can shine. Take someone like me who's motivation is personal, who wants to use technology to solve a problem, one that may not make business sense to solve. With the right knowledge and the right tools, there is no reason a group of amateur scientists can't solve the problems that aren't being addressed by the professionals.

I'm just beginning, I'm working with bacteria at the moment - learning to edit genes in them, and building the equipment needed to do it. Soon I'll move up to plants and animals. I'd love to help the dogs who are riddled with genetic diseases because of the blindness and crudeness of traditional breeding methods. They have shockingly high instances of genetic disease. Some breeds like the Dalmatian are all afflicted with the same disease thanks to institutional inbreeding. If their gene pools can be fixed, if dog breeders can test for and repair broken genes it will not only relieve a tremendous amount of animal suffering but it will serve as a proving ground for the techniques and tools needed to repair the broken code in us.

So much suffering and death can be avoided in the future. The randomness of the genetic lottery can be removed and replaced with personal choice. Our crops can grow more food on less land with less impact on the environment, our pets can live healthier longer lives, we can live healthier longer lives ourselves. We just have to take control of our own code and the code around us. Evolution is blind and heartless - it doesn't care about quality of life or happiness. It's just uses trial and error to discriminate towards reproductive efficiency. We can do better for ourselves, our families, and the species around us. This is something we should all have a hand in, this is our future and the future of our families. I know I want to spare my children the pain and fear my parents suffered watching all three of their children hover at the edge of death for years. I want to see what kind of world we could create, what kind of problems we could solve if millions of us worked together to find and repair the errors, to optimize the code of life. I'll be working towards that end, and I'd like to challenge anyone reading this to ask yourself two questions. If you had the power to fix or rewrite that code what great thing would you do with it, and why don't you?