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Open-source genetics and the ethics of biohacking Pt. 1

by | 4 Mar 2024

Open source genetics is the idea that you cannot patent or retain genetic information since it was derived from nature, a kind of creative commons if you will. This idea stretches into biohacking, a combination of biology and hacking. The idea that biological elements could be tweaked into anything that is biologically possible, analogous to computer hacking where computer code and hardware was altered to do things outside its original design.

At the heart of open-source, genetics and hacking can be found ethics, or the morals of the person holding, sharing, or modifying this information. Whether this is articles and ideas, genes and DNA, or software and hardware, the ethical concerns seem to remain: what if a person uses them for evil? Or at the least in a moral grey area.

In the case of ideas, they can spread to cause revolution, sparking revolt and change in people as well as hatred, rebellion, or more, hopefully, creation and synergy.

In the case of computers, someone could hack into my or any other computer and cause a ventilator in a hospital to shut down, hack into someones account to steal their money, launch a missile from one foe to another.

In the case of genetics it is idea that someone can make a bioweapon. A concoction of genetic tools, many of which are freely available on the internet in the same way code is, could be used for evil.

The reality is much the same for any human creation. In the same hands, a brick can be used to build a house or bludgeon a neighbour, so can any human creation be used for creation or destruction.

The magnitude of those effects may vary. In the same way a virus can spread on the digital web, a physical virus can use its methods in the physical world too. That leads me to the idea of the bio-hacker. Someone who may have a greyer moral code. They may consider some things to be worth the danger or have seemingly taken the relevant precautions. But given the nature of hacking and hacking culture, and the really specific stuff you can do with genetic code, the culture around mass market biotech products may follow similar cultural attributes. But this is speculation at this point.

Lets dive into some biotech details…