“Synthetic Biology turns us from creatures to creators. It’s not just the future of medicine, but the future of mankind.” With Professor Lorenz’s promising yet equally debatable opening lecture to her unethical practices in the name of research, surely open us to the massive potential of biotechnology. BioHackers not only highlights important ethical issues but also introduces genetic engineering in a detail often not seen on screen.
Biohacking pretty much comprises of synthetic biology, DIY science, bodyhacking, and health optimization. Each of these have been explicitly shown in the show with CRISPR remaining the buzz word:
• Using gene editing to find a cure for genetic diseases like Huntington’s
• creating a massive database of DNA profiles of millions of people
• genetically modifying organisms to create a vivarium filled with red-eyed heart-attack inducing mosquitoes
• engineering mushrooms with new flavors to make livestock farming obsolete
• genetically altering fungi and plants to create a bio-piano
• using NFC micro-chip to pay in shops
… and the list of such fancy experiments goes on.
However, what stood out for me is the ethical dilemma the show touched upon- in major and minor ways. To what extent can we go under the façade of “research purpose”? Intentionally inducing faulty genes in humans in order to treat them to get rid of genetic diseases in the future? Even though such practice is currently limited to a techno-thriller, how tempted can scientists get to fast-track research? Hence, bioethics is imperative to draw a line.
Currently biotechnology has opened up many applications in research and development, addressing medical issues and inducing desirable traits; improving human health conditions, fight food, and feed problems, and so on.
With further advancements, we will need concrete bioethics committees reviewing research of public and private institutions. In science, a misstep can cost us permanent impairments. Research publications do have a mandatory review board approval stage. However, as research broadens, governments around the world will need to enforce stricter measures to ensure legal and ethical practices in non-published research areas as well.
Another important aspect briefly shown was patient consent in clinical studies. When Professor Lorenz takes Mia’s mouth swab without her proper consent and secretly performs a DNA database search to unveil her true identity- these instances did get me to think again. Even though we are advancing towards a world where DNA fingerprinting will become a commonplace, we need to first set some ground rules.
Watching multi-step biotech protocols being followed for a mainstream audience, is indeed quite refreshing. Definitely not without futuristic technologies, Biohackers does manage to entertain and promote synthetic biology in its own way. After all, glow-in-the-dark mice, gene-modded fluorescent weed, and payment microchips in your hand- the applications cannot get more tempting!