Biohacking and biopunk are hot topics these days with recent coverage popping up in mainstream tech news sources of biotech citizen scientists and labs appearing in publications such as Fast Company, Forbes, The New York Times, and even the Wall Street Journal. Has biopunk gone big time or just jumped the shark?
Here’s an update on a few cool and real world projects in the biopunk and biohacking scenes, plus a quickie interview with Lukas Dimoveo from Grindhouse on the latest in DIY implant tech.
Back in February 2010, DIY bio-hacker and self surgeon Lepht Anonym wrote here on Scrapheap Transhumanism, the idea of using cast offs, waste electronics, and left overs to transform yourself. Lepht also notably performs rather gruesome self surgeries. Lepht’s article cracked open a few people’s head at that time because notably scrapheap transhumanism isn’t the biohacking-light version that the mainstream press is talking about now; there’s blood and Lepht does all of their surgeries without anesthesia. But things have progressed quite a bit in just two years; real science is being done, and real tools are being developed.
But as always, big revolutions start small and with devices or ideas that are often hacked together, and only partially working. The state of the art in DIY Bio remains rough around the edges. But there are some things you can start working with today.
Low Cost Polymerase Chain Reaction Systems
In 1983, Kary Mullis first developed the idea for PCR or polymerase chain reaction amplification of DNA, for which he later received a Nobel Prize. But the tools to do it are still expensive, so the Open PCR project used Kickstarter to fund development of a low cost open PCR kit you can build and use at home. Open PCR is an open source PCR system consisting of a hardware kit and software for $599 US. Other interesting DIY PCR projects include Coffee Cup PCR and Lightbulb PCR.
Microscopes, Spectrometers, More.
Another interesting set of DIY biohacking projects is developing at Hackteria in Los Angeles. Hackteria’s focus is more on the artistic uses of biohacking and biotechnologies, however, while not up to the standards of professional devices, their DIY microscope webcam for hemocytometer collaborative research is pretty interesting and may have some real world applications.
A Kickstarter project that funds today which I am personally pretty excited about is the Public Lab DIY Spectrometry Kit . I’ve previously developed neural netowrks for recognizing chemicals from spectra of this sort, so I have some ideas for applications of this device myself. The project is being developed by Jeffery Warren and Public Lab and it includes both a software and hardware platform that is destined to become a standard tool for citizen scientists and biohackers.
The project has already reached its “stretch goal” so Jeff is going ot develop an iOS app and also “API so you can create your own spectral analysis apps”. The first step of this will be a “simple macro scripting language at available at SpectralWorkbench.org.” A wide variety of applications are going to be possible with this device.
There is also a desktop version which might be more usefully modified to use alternative light sources.
The Instructables site has a few biohacking related projects that might be of interest including a UV Transilluminator, and this nifty mini gel electrophoresis set up. Useful and a great conversation piece as well, this will look great on the coffee table or mantle of any aspiring biopunk. 😉
HELEDD 1.0 Implant
New developments in the grinder scene, the hardcore body modifiers and bio-hackers that are using their own bodies as living laboratories warrant a mention here. Specifically the release of the HELEDD 1.0 implant. The HELEDD is an implantable device that can read biomedical data and transmit it to other devices and the Internet via a bluetooth link. Users of HELEDD implants will be able to aggregate weeks or months of medical data and observe variations over time as they engage in various activities, dietary changes, meditation, etc. The HELEDD implant records body temperature and heart rate over time, and it can also display information via LEDs visible through your skin.
I asked Lukas Dimoveo of Grindhouse about the device and biohacking.
Lukas: Biohacking concerns itself with augmenting humans or biological systems.
H+: Lukas, can you say a few words about the HELEDD? I am super excited about what developers will be able to do with this kit.
Lukas: This is the very first prototype of the HELEDD device. The current iteration of the HELEDD prototype is much smaller, but each component is currently being tested for robustness before it is reassembled and subject to fluid tests.
- 4Gb File Storage
- Wireless Charging
- Wireless File Storage
- Datalogging (medical data) – Temperature and Heart Rate sensors. Additional sensors will be added in following iterations of HELEDD
- Ability to deploy and upload code via bluetooth
- Anonymous database for biodata
- Android Alert for anomalous biodata
H+: Lukas, can you tell me a little about the history of Grindhouse? How did it get started, what is your personal history with Grindhouse and DIY bio-hacking more generally?
Lukas: The founding members of Grindhouse belonged to the biohack.me community since its beginning. Around December 2011, Tim Cannon, Shawn Sarver, Ian Linell, and I met and decided that DIY transhumanism should be moving on at a faster pace than it was at the time. We settled on working towards project goals like a company would, rather than approaching it like a hobbyist group.
In the weeks that followed we set out to build our Bottlenose and Thinking Cap devices, all of which can be read about on our website. We hope to provide more interesting augments in the coming months.
I am not from a technical background, but I was one of the first administrators in the biohack.me community. Currently I am a project and operations manager for Grindhouse Wetwares – it is not as exciting as working in the lab, but it is fulfilling work.
Lukas: The future is uncertain – the future of ‘DIY transhumansim’ even is even more so. Grinders generally believe that the most ethical transhumanist future is an open source one. The implementation of open quantified self implants and A.I doctors would undoubtedly lead to a healthier populace. With affordable and open DIY medical technology the importance of the industrial age model of medicine would be reduced, and that is not necessarily a bad thing.
Resources and Further Reading:
Bob’s Biohacker Toolbox
University of Utah Teach Genetics Site has lots of useful information