The Biopunk Reader

17Mar/112

Domesticating the Wild, Printing Body Parts

3-11-11--

I was standing in line at the Barnes & Noble checkout counter last night (buying comic books, if you must know), when my eyes rested on a copy of the latest National Geographic. The huge picture of a red fox stared back at me. The headline read, "Designing the Perfect Pet: Can a Fox Become Man's Best Friend?"

I snatched the issue up. It just so happens that genetically-engineered pet foxes make a cameo in my latest short story, "How to Hack Your Dragon," which is being released on the 22nd in Growing Dread: Biopunk Visions. They were just something I'd made up--or thought I had. But here they were--foxes that were being bred by Russian scientists for domestication, in a sped-up process meant to recreate the transformation of wolves into dogs. So, the scientists weren't using genetic engineering to make wild foxes into pet foxes ("lapfoxes" I call them in my story, to allude to the fact that they sit on human laps), but they are using these foxes (along with aggressively-bred counterparts) to explore the genes that control domestication. It's the sort of experiment that could lead to something like lapfoxes actually happening in the future.



Interesting stuff, especially considering that--although the scientists are breeding only for behavioral traits of domestication--the animals have spontaneously begun to display the physical traits of domestication, too--traits like floppy ears and spotted coats. These physical characteristics are somewhat universal to all domesticated animals, be they cows, dogs, or fish. (All right, so fish can't have floppy ears--but they can have spots.)

Excitedly, I mentioned the experiment to my beau. His eyes widened. "That's horrible!" he said.

I was taken aback. Who wouldn't want a cute, cuddly fox as a pet? It's not like we'd be messing with the wild population. However, that might be an issue, if domesticated foxes mingled with wild natives. But that hasn't been a concern with dogs and wolves or coyotes...right?

"No," he said. "Think of the implications. If they can domesticate foxes...they could try to domesticate us."

"Posh!" I said. "We are the standard to which other creatures are domesticated. We can't be domesticated, because we are the model of domestication."

Actually, I didn't say "posh," and I couldn't find the right words to say what I meant, so what I said was more like, "What? They can't domesticate us! We--domesticated--already. Um. I have an argument, but I can't find the words. (mumbling). Right. (turns back to WoW)"

I finished reading the article before bed, so it was much later when I arrived at the place where the article mentioned us humans. As it turns out, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is now funding the fox project because of its implications for human behavior. They believe that the domestication of foxes might give us a clue into how we became "domesticated"...and how our genes code our social behavior.

Oh.

Boyfriend was right.

My first thought: Might those genes be rewritten in those of us who aren't quite as "domesticated" as we should be?

"Yeah," said my friend, Bender. "We'll be rewriting our own software in the future. We'll be able to do whatever we want to ourselves."

Actually, what he might have said was, "They will be able to do whatever they want to us."

But I can't recall his exact words.

Speaking of rewriting ourselves...we may also be able to rebuild ourselves quite soon. Just before the article about the foxes was a piece called "Miracle Grow." On the page next to the title was an ear in a petri dish. Just an ear. The texture of the thing was reminiscent of wax or styrafoam, in a very light pink color. Its caption read, "The synthetic scaffold of an ear sits bathed in cartilage-producing cells, part of an effort to grow new ears for wounded soldiers."

Funny. Just last week, Bender sent me three articles about scientists at the Wake Forest University Institute of Regenerative Medicine who are discovering new ways to build custom replacement organs. One method involved "printing" tissue into the shape of organs, much similar to 3D printing technology that is used for things like Figure Prints. In fact, I had been planning to write my very next post--this one--about "printed" organs, several days before I landed on the National Geographic article.

Besides the printing technique, National Geographic explains that scientists are fabricating organs by using cartilaginous scaffolds and then growing tissue cells atop it.

I am reminded of "Repo: The Genetic Opera" and "Repo Men." Both good, macabre movies (Repo Men is also a book) about organ replacement corporations who hire repo men to bloodily confiscate products that have not been paid for.

Tinkering with domestication genes, and growing replacements for body parts... What do you think are the implications?

--Christine

10Mar/1113

Encounters of the Biopunk Kind

by Heather Massey

You just never know when, or where, you’ll run into biopunk.

In retrospect, my first exposure to biopunk was very surreal. My encounter happened back in the early 80s, at a time when I had no idea the subgenre existed. Picture, if you will, my thirteen (or maybe fourteen?) year old self parked in front of the television one weekday afternoon at 3 p.m.. I had arrived promptly for my daily love fest with SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO a.k.a. STAR BLAZERS, courtesy of Channel 56 (Boston).

The episode that day would have been #18: Floating fortress island! Two men brave death!. It involved our hero, Derek Wildstar and ship’s engineer Sandor investigating a mysterious object known as the “magnetron wave satellite.” Read the intriguing—and telling—summary of their encounter courtesy of Star Blazers.com:

They [Wildstar and Sandor] moor the ship near an opening and begin walking through the strange corridors. Wildstar is reminded of a cavern, but it almost seems like they're walking through a living thing, with lots of vein-like wires and tubes lining the walls. Like most Gamilon bases, there are strange, rhythmic, stomach gurgling noises in the background.

Production note: the soundbed created for this environment made a comeback in Series 2 as the ominous ambient noises inside the Comet Empire city. For now, it comes across as an creepy indicator of Gamilon's affinity for biotechnology.

Did you see that? Right there, where it says biotechnology. OMG! Leiji Matsumoto and Co. were playing with biopunk as far back as 1974, when the original series first aired in Japan. In this case, the Gamilons were the villains who wielded biopunk creations for their diabolical purposes, muwahahahaha!

Here are some nifty shots of the biopunk elements from that episode:

The visuals in that episode were so weird, so strange, and so wonderful, it’s no surprise it created a lasting impression. Ever since, I’ve had an affinity for biopunk even though I didn’t know its name until decades later.

Speaking of later, I subsequently glommed films such as AKIRA, THE FLY (both the ’58 and ’86 versions), GHOST IN THE SHELL, and GATTACA, all of which primed me for biopunk in books. More specifically, in science fiction romance.

Why the SF-romance mix? Well, STAR BLAZERS had a strong romantic subplot. Therefore, it’s no wonder that biopunk and romance transformed into some sort of genetic markers in my DNA or something. The idea of biotechnology gone wildly, bizarrely wrong or being used for corrupt purposes gets my heart a-pumpin’ like nothing else.

Enter Sara Creasy’s SONG OF SCARABEAUS. This book had been getting some great buzz, and knowing it was cyberpunk SF with romantic elements, I decided to check it out sooner rather than later.

Here’s the story blurb:

The best cypherteck in the galaxy, Edie can reinvent planets with little more than a thought. Trained since childhood in advanced biocyph seed technology by the all-powerful Crib empire, her mission is to terraform alien worlds while her masters bleed the outlawed Fringe populations dry. When renegade mercenaries kidnap Edie, she's not entirely sure it's a bad thing... until they leash her to a bodyguard, Finn - a former freedom fighter-turned-slave, beaten down but never broken. If Edie strays from Finn's side, he dies. If she doesn't cooperate, the pirates will kill them both.

But Edie's abilities far surpass anything her enemies imagine. And now, with Finn her only ally as the merciless Crib closes in, she'll have to prove it or die on the site of her only failure... a world called Scarabaeus.

Now, prior to reading the story, I hadn’t read the story blurb (I avoid them when possible if I know I’m going to read a book in order to avoid potential spoilers). So discovering the biopunk elements inside was an immensely delightful surprise. The scenes toward the end were especially mesmerizing and chock full of biopunk horrors. I’m not going to go into detail here—you’ll just have to read the book!

Did SONG OF SCARABAEUS induce warm and fuzzy memories of the “magnetron wave satellite” from STAR BLAZERS? Yes!

Then I got some icing for my cake. Not very long after finishing SONG OF SCARABEAUS, I learned about Ella Drake’s JAQ’S HARP, a biopunk science fiction romance novella (Carina Press). Think: Jack and the Beanstalk, biopunk style. But in this story, the beanstalk is far more than just a giant hunk of plant.

Here’s the story blurb:

In a world of floating islands and bio-engineered beans, the bad guys are taken down by agents of the Mother organization—agents like Jacqueline "Jaq" Robinson. Instead of accepting her next routine assignment, she sets out on a mission of her own—to destroy Giant Corp, the company responsible for her sister's wasting illness. Jaq must steal her cure from Giant's headquarters high above the city...even though she'll be brought face-to-face with Harper English, the man who left her to go deep undercover at Giant.
For Harp, Jaq had been a distraction the mercenary thought he couldn't afford. But once he sees her again, Harp knows he's made a mistake. Even though she vowed he won't have her again, it's clear they still have a powerful attraction. Harp's determined to get a second chance with Jaq—if they can escape Giant Corp and get back to solid ground in one piece…

Ella Drake did a mighty fine job of building a “twisted fairytale” wherein biopunk is harnessed as an insidious weapon against humanity—all in the name of profit and greed. Left me shivering in all the right places.

Did JAQ’S HARP—and especially the beanstalk—induce warm and fuzzy memories of the “magnetron wave satellite” from STAR BLAZERS? Yes!

I’m now hungrier than ever for biopunk science fiction romance. Talk about a huge, unexplored territory. Hook me up, pretty please! Luckily, Sara Creasy’s CHILDREN OF SCARABEAUS releases this month, and Ella Drake recently informed me that she has another story set in her JAQ’S HARP universe.

Biopunk has been around a long time and in various guises. This dark and gritty subgenre raises all kinds of thought-provoking questions. Pairing it with romance is yet another way to celebrate its “Whoa!” quotient.

I think biopunk could be the next big thing in genre fiction. What about you? But don’t stop there. Tell me about your first encounter with this subgenre.

4Mar/115

A Phone With Personality

Chances are, you've heard plenty already about the Android phone and it's operating system, but have you heard of an Elfroid? Although I'm not entirely certain what sort of relevance this really has to well, anything, but it amused me.

The Elfroid is a phone currently being developed in Japan to resemble a tiny human being. The phone wiggles throughout the duration of your conversation, and speaks to you in the voice of whoever is on the other line. When you have an incoming call, the device tickles you, and is also built with a coating designed to mimic the feel of real human skin. Those Japanese.

It sort of reminds of a homunculus.

There's more on the Elfroid at news.com.au and geekologie.com

--Leah

Filed under: Biotech News 5 Comments
28Feb/110

The Blood Music of Biopunk

A review of Blood Music by Lorenzo Davia

Greg Bear is probably one of the most versatile science fiction authors. In his novels he dealt with every possible subject, from space opera to technological apocalypses.

One of his most influential and interesting novels is Blood Music which was first published in 1983 as a short story and was then expanded to novel size in 1985. The novel was nominated for many SF awards, while the short story won the Hugo and Nebula awards.

The story starts when Vergil Ulam, a genius scientist working for a major biotechnological company, the Genetron, creates bio-computers by modifying lymphocytes: Their RNA molecules now are used to execute computations. His boss doesn't show any interest in such a discovery as he can't see any possible economical business, and orders Vergil to eliminate the noocites. Vergil instead decides to inject them into his blood in order to take them out of the controlled laboratory where he works, with the idea of developing this project on his own.

In short time the noocites evolve into self-conscious creatures and try to contact directly with Vergil's mind, who hears them as a music inside his own blood. He asks a friend of his for some help to stop the noocites. His friend, aware of the potential dangers, kills Vergil, but it is too late: The noocites exit from Vergil's body and begin to colonize other persons. In short time all North America is literally covered with these microscopic biological supercomputers...

The novel is amazingly modern, imagining revolutionary consequences derived from biotechnology misuse in a year (1983) in which only few used the term biotechnology. At the same time, Bear well represents the possible benefits derived from this invention: Vergil's body is modified by the noocites, making it healthier and stronger.

The novel had also a strong influence on the cyberpunk and trans-humanist movements, as it was the first to depict a "virtual" reality created by living beings more advanced than men. As noocites are at the same time biological creatures and microcomputers, this seminal novel makes no difference between biotechnology and nanotechnology, between cyberpunk, nanopunk and biopunk, but gives inspiration and solid basis for all.

In conclusion it is a must read for all biopunk fans.

21Feb/113

Interview with Ella Drake, Author of Jaq’s Harp

Back in November, I ran across this gorgeous cover on The Galaxy Express:

dark biopunk yumminess

The cover belonged to a novel forthcoming from Carina Press, and had this tagline: Futuristic Romance/Twisted Fairytale/Biopunk.

My ears immediately perked. It'd been a long time since I'd stumbled across a self-identified biopunk tale. And...twisted fairytale? Mmmm--just my speed. :)

This month, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jaq's Harp author Ella Drake. (::squeal!::) For more about Jaq's world, fantastical bio-engineered beans, and anti-corporation agents...read on.

Back cover blurb:

In a world of floating islands and bio-engineered beans, the bad guys are taken down by agents of the Mother organization—agents like Jacqueline "Jaq" Robinson. Instead of accepting her next routine assignment, she sets out on a mission of her own—to destroy Giant Corp, the company responsible for her sister's wasting illness. Jaq must steal her cure from Giant's headquarters high above the city...even though she'll be brought face-to-face with Harper English, the man who left her to go deep undercover at Giant.

For Harp, Jaq had been a distraction the mercenary thought he couldn't afford. But once he sees her again, Harp knows he's made a mistake. Even though she vowed he won't have her again, it's clear they still have a powerful attraction. Harp's determined to get a second chance with Jaq—if they can escape Giant Corp and get back to solid ground in one piece...

TBR: Ella, thank you for joining us on The Biopunk Reader. On your website, you describe Jaq's Harp as a "futuristic romance/twisted fairytale/biopunk"--which immediately piqued my interest. First, a question I love to ask everyone: How did you first get involved with biopunk?

ED: In a round-about kind of way. I’ve always had a fascination with punk genres in speculative fiction, but for the most part, I’ve be more drawn in by cyberpunk, ala Blade Runner, Johnny Mnemonic, and The Matrix. Recently, my youngest child developed a strange fascination for the movie “9”. While not biopunk, the idea of stitchpunk coupled with the steampunks I’d started reading developed into an urge to write biopunk (how many punk words can a person fit in one paragraph?) . I wanted to delve into how the development of biology and medicine might happen in the future. One concept I’ve yet to explore is how biology and cyber technology will mix and grow. A functional, biology based computer would have astounding possibilities.

TBR: Can you tell us about Jaq's world?

ED: Jaq’s world is a near-future concept set in “New Castle” which is a sprawling city that takes up most of a continent. I purposely don’t base it on a real city—or even a continent as we know it—to give a bit of a fairy tale feel to that setting. New Castle has a token government. Things are really run by mega-corporations that are no longer housed on the ground. The wealthy and their corporations abide in floating islands in the sky. Think Laputa from Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, or even the movie Castle in the Sky. There’s a visual and physical stratus to go with the sharp division of social and financial status.

TBR: What inspired you to mesh fairytale with biotechnology?

ED: I owe this to discussing Jack and the Beanstalk with my kids. This is one of those tales that doesn’t really bear reflection. The moral implications of a thief climbing up into a Giant’s castle to steal from him and then kill him does make me wonder what the point is of the story. From those discussion, I started wondering what would give Jack proper motivation and a good reason to go up into the sky. The idea then started to run with “what ifs”. I wondered what would happen if the Giant were actually a giant corporation and what if Jack was actually Jacqueline and the beanstalk could actually happen. I mean, if you’re pondering a twist of this particular fairytale, you can’t ignore the beanstalk!

TBR: Will you tell us a little about your protagonists, Jaq and Harp?

ED: Former lovers Jaq and Harp are both agents of the Mother organization, a spy organization that developed out of the government’s ineffectiveness in dealing with megacorps. Harp abandoned their relationship to go deep cover in Giant Corp. Now, Jaq is basically going on her own mission to take down the corporation because they caused her sister to become gravely ill. They meet up on the floating island and things escalate rapidly. There’s hurt and grudging attraction between the two, and they have to find each other before they can be happy again. In this story, they take technology and bio-tech for granted. It’s part of their world and tools they use. It’s not part of the conflict between them, though it does force Jaq into the actions she takes.

TBR: "Floating islands," "bio-engineered beans"--it all sounds fascinating! What's your favorite bit of bio-tech in the story?

ED: The bio-engineered beans! There are a kind of living technology that after being planted, grow into a large, green, living ladder.

While the backdrop of this story is biopunk, the marginalization of the poor, the powerful corporations, and the advancement of biotechnology that empowers it, neither of the main characters have been biologically modified and the main bio-tech element of import is the beanstalk. There’s also the concept of biological manipulation for monetary gain, in this story, in the form of purposely spreading a virus to make profit on the vaccine. Another of my favorite elements is actually a character, Monsieur Bovine who is an equipment chief in Mother who’s main focus of interest is in bio-tech advancements. Someone who makes strides in development while trying to make them applicable in the fight against megacorps. He’s kind of my anti-evil-scientist bio-geek.

TBR: Where are you going with this world? Do you have more stories planned?

ED: I’ve written another story in this world that goes deeper into biopunk elements and explores the meaning of humanity and the what-ifs of biological enhanced people. It’s a bit darker than Jaq’s Harp and I hope to be able to share more about it soon.

TBR: Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?

ED: One last thought is about the lingering inspiration that The Island of Doctor Moreau has on me (and Christine, I’d say [ed.: yes!]) when writing biopunk. I’d compare the world of Jaq’s Harp is something more like Gattaca, but I’d love to delve into the darker world of experimentation like in Doctor Moreau. Maybe one day.

Ella, thank you!

```

Oh, and by the way... Jaq's Harp was released today. :)

Happy reading!

--Christine

18Feb/110

A Mammoth Proposal

About a month ago, my friend Bender sent me a very interesting article: "Mammoth 'could be reborn in four years'."

Four years. Wow.

Of course, we've heard about this kind of thing in fiction before--prehistoric cloning a la Jurassic Park. But that was dinosaurs, and it's not every day that scientists discover dinosaur soft tissue, the fleshy stuff that can contain DNA. These are mammoths we're talking about, whose bodies are found frozen--hair and skin still attached. We're talking about the real possibility of resurrecting our first living, breathing dead-for-thousands-of-years species.

Fast forward a couple of weeks. I'm enjoying Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan, and a single sentence stands out to me:

Alek recalled seeing photos of a mammothine--a huge, shaggy sort of Siberian elephant, the first extinct creature the Darwininsts had brought back.

I thought, Sounds like Mr. Westerfeld might be right on target. A hundred years early, but right on target.

:)

--Christine

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6Feb/112

Back to the Future: Biopunk in the (Not Quite) Historic Past?

I am nearly finished reading Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan. It's a YA steampunk by the author who turned me onto cyberpunk (back when he was writing adult fiction and I was still a tween), but besides super-cool war mechs and mechanical horses, there's something else that really sticks out to me about this book--it's got bioengineering.

So, they call DNA "life threads" and bioengineering "fabrication," and the hard science of it is a little iffy (which is just fine--it's steampunk, after all), but it's bioengineering nonetheless. Pretty spiffy bioengineering, too. The British air navy has a humongous flying whale that stays aloft with the hydrogen produced by bacteria in its gut--fed by the honey of fabricated bees with no stingers. Then there are the humongous floating jellyfish that act as living hot air balloons. And the tiger-wolves. The "elephantine" draft animals. The message lizards that can repeat short messages in the voice of the message senders. Need I go on? Pretty cool stuff.

Biopunk often seems to be pigeonholed in the future, where the biotechnology themes may only play shotgun to advanced electronics. But I propose that--unlike its massive big brother, cyberpunk, which is stuck firmly in the future--biopunk has the freedom to appear in a variety of different time periods. Take, for instance, Leviathan. It takes place in 1914, though it's apparent that the process of "fabrication" has been around for decades before the story begins--after all, the late 19th century Darwin discovered the process.

Of course, I'm partial to 19th century biopunk, becauase it combines two of my favorite genres (I am assuming that any 19th century biopunk will automatically be steampunk, as well).* But this combination also seems somewhat natural to me. In biopunk and steampunk discussions, I've seen "The Island of Dr. Moreau" called a proto-steampunk and a proto-biopunk--and that was written by a Victorian author.

And I'm not just talking about 19th century biopunk here. Themes of biopunk exist throughout the 19th and 20th centuries--and possibly earlier? Eugenics, the creation of man-animal hybrids, biological enhancement. The knowledge of genetic material in chromosomes and the process of cloning existed before the official discovery of DNA in 1953. I think that leaves a lot of room in the 20th century for plausible biopunk settings.

The game Bioshock is stellar example of 20th century biopunk. This "genetically-enhanced first-person shooter" envisions a 1960s underwater utopia...gone wrong. The story and gameplay revolve around genetic alteration technology. It stretches biopunk to a fantastical level--drink a vile of glowing liquid and suddenly you can shoot electricity from your hand!--but I think it's fair to leave a little wiggle room in science fiction. :)

What say you? Is anyone else interested in steamed-up or other historic biopunk? What other settings might be appropriate, and how would the biotech work? Is the understanding of genetic material a necessary prerequisite to biotechnology? If not, at what point is the biotech not recognizable biotech? Where is the line drawn between biopunk...and "Frankenstein"?

--Christine

* And if some fantasy or paranormal elements can be mixed in, too, I'd be in Shangri-La--I love my speculative fiction to be of the "mutt" variety. The new ideas that spring up when two spiffy genres are mashed together are super spiffy.

24Jan/112

The Punk Suffix; An Etymology And Beyond

It's a word that has been tossed around a lot in the past several years, tacked onto the end of innumerable subgenres and their derivatives; cyberpunk, steampunk, biopunk, clockpunk, atompunk, splatterpunk, elfpunk.  The 'p' word is everywhere, that much is indisputable, but what exactly does it mean? The most literal answer to that question can be easily located in the Online Etymology Dictionary:

punk Look up punk at Dictionary.com"worthless person" (especially a young hoodlum), 1917, probably from punk kid "criminal's apprentice," underworld slang first attested 1904 (with overtones of "catamite"). Ultimately from punk "prostitute, harlot, strumpet," first recorded 1590s, of unknown origin. For sense shift from "harlot" to "homosexual," cf. gay. By 1923 used generally for "young boy, inexperienced person" (originally in show business, e.g. punk day, circus slang from 1930, "day when children are admitted free")...The "young criminal" sense is no doubt the inspiration in punk rock first attested 1971 (in a Dave Marsh article in "Creem"), popularized 1976."

From the above information we take some of the most widely accepted attributes of punk; it invariably involves civil dissent or criminal behavior, often amongst the youth population. It may also refer to individuals who live on the barriers of society, or who champion unpopular causes. Punk is a lifestyle choice. Yes, you say, that's all well and good, but what in Gandalf's gray pajama bottoms does any of this have to do with science fiction literature? How can bio-androids and mohawked hooligans hold hands? Why not simply call this blog The Biotech Reader, or something of the sort?

I pondered on this myself when I first published a short story with Steampunk Magazine, and the debate regarding the punk attachment continues to pop up quite regularly in forums across the net. Of late I have been thinking on it again ever since Mr. Di Phillipo mentioned the use of the suffix in the statement he kindly wrote for our blog. Since then I've  basically embarked on a quest for the true meaning of punk, and found it to be elusive at best. Like any widespread dogma, it means something different to each individual.

However, the eventual conclusion I personally came to was that when you remove any associations with The Cure, ripped jeans, and teenagers sporting cheap hair dye, punk is about backbone. It's about finding the strength to stand against what you believe is unethical, even if the whole world is against you. My favorite amongst all the explanations I found online was, "An old granny Not mowing her front lawn when the council told her to is punk" (urbandictionary.com). George Orwell's 1984 was as punk as it gets. Aldous Huxley's Brave New World was punk. If science fiction isn't about examining what's wrong with mainstream society, then I don't know what is.

But this is by no means a closed topic. There is no solid answer, and this post is meant to inspire debate. Please, by all means, submit your own ideas on the subject in the comments box below. Let us know what you think!

--Leah

23Jan/110

A #biopunk #cyberpunkchat

Last Saturday (last last Saturday), I had the pleasure of participating in Twitter's weekly #cyberpunkchat, hosted by @JoshKEvans and @NateCrowder (did I miss anyone?). The theme was...*drumroll*...biopunk! Had a boatload of fun, despite the sometimes-difficulty of following the waterfall of tweets. Brings me back to my days of AOL chats--but with better dialogue. ^_~

Happily, my biopunk reading (and watching) list is now a little longer. But when will I find time to read all of these books? ::headdesk::

Interested in reading the chat transcript for yourself? Visit here. The date was January 15, 2011.

--Christine

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13Jan/110

Glimpses Into Our Biopunk Future

I recently received a massive amount of intelligence from my good friend, Bender. He's got a window to the future in his mud room (kind of a long story, something involving the room's hidden dog house entrance, his father's fax machine, and a paradox in the space-time continuum), and occasionally he's able to dial through for glimpses of what-may-come-to-be. Predictions can be pretty dodgy--the window seems to flicker between several different futures. He's reported one involving the Singularity, one that looks an awful lot like cyberpunk, and several varieties of dystopia.

I told him about my biopunk blogging project and asked if he's had any glimpses of future biotech. Lucky me--he caught a look at a very biopunk future several days later! Here's what he found:

In the future, computers are built of bacteria, yeast, and even our own cells. The cells act like logic gates and can be programmed for any number of activities, including patrolling our bodies for diseases--and treating them. Cancer? A thing of the past. And most medications have been rendered obsolete. Goodbye to doctor visits as we know them.

DIY science and biohacking are common. Many families keep a home lab, where they make their own observations and perform self modifications. Moms no longer teach their little girls how to apply makeup; they design them amethyst-colored eyes and perfect noses, instead.

Synthetic biology has changed the fields of medicine and agriculture--and have unintended consequences on the ecosystem, despite good intentions. Thankfully, the synthlife seems to do as much good as bad--because of microbes that eat waste sludge and scrub smog from the skies, pollution is under control.

With the development of biomimetic transistors, humans are developing into part-machine organic cyborgs. Like I said, "Goodbye to doctor visits as we know them." A physician examination is almost completely computerized; just jack into the outlet and let your body tell the medic system how you're doing. In fact, most people can do this from home--forget office visits with long waits.

That's it for now, but Bender's getting more notes to me every day. As long as this window remains stable (he's been able to keep it open for several days now), he'll be sharing more tidbits.

--Christine

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