Biohacking

Background

Ever grab a cup of coffee to improve your focus before a big meeting or take a hot bath to relax before bed? If so, you might be a biohacker.

Biohacking refers to a spectrum of behaviors and technology meant to improve one's health, quality of life, and life expectancy. Dave Asprey, often referred to as the "father of biohacking," defines biohacking as the "art and science of changing the environment around you and then inside of you, so you have full control of your own biology."

Breadth

The ends of the biohacking spectrum are connected by a DIY undercurrent that encourages biohackers to experiment with various modalities to find what works best for them. 

On one end of this spectrum exists what many might consider simple behavior modifications and tools, such as practicing good sleep hygiene, using caffeine, or getting shockwave therapy.

At the other end of the spectrum exists a wide range of fringe behavior and body modifications that aren't always backed by human clinical trials and sometimes push users into the realm of transhumanism (more on that later). 

Between these poles runs a gamut of intentions, with some using biohacking as a way to restore standard abilities and others trying to extend their lives or "reverse" aging. Some biohacks rely on technology, while others attempt to optimize the body's already existing systems and processes, such as through intermittent fasting and breathwork.

Technology

Bestowing new senses or abilities or enhancing existing ones by interweaving technology and biology is the bread and butter of transhumanism, a belief that seeks to use technology to move beyond the naturally occurring limits of the body and mind. 

This train of tech naturally leads to the concept of cyborgs, a portmanteau of cybernetics and organisms that refers to creatures whose abilities have been enhanced through technology.

The concept of cyborgs coalesced in the 1960s when the term was coined in an academic paper on space travel.

In that paper, authors Manfred E. Clynes and Nathan S. Kline write that a fish couldn't readily live on land unless "a particularly intelligent fish could be found, who had studied a great deal of biochemistry and physiology, was a master engineer and cyberneticist, and had excellent lab facilities available to him, [then] this fish could conceivably have the ability to design an instrument which would allow him to live on land and breathe air quite readily"—thus the cyborg was born.

More study and technological advancements are required before the cyborg, as it appears in sci-fi, can be fully realized. At present, a subcategory of biohackers and citizen scientists, known as "grinders," continue to grind away at the heavy lift through experimental body modifications.

Video Gallery

A collection of videos about Biohacking

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Relevant articles, podcasts, videos, and more from around the internet — curated and summarized by our team

Photo of several partially used blister packs of medicine.
Open link on archive.org

Biohacking merges technology and biology to restore or enhance human capabilities. This movement grew out of a cybernetic professor's 1998 experiment during which he implanted an RFID chip in his arm, allowing him to control other electronics. How biohacking manifests varies; Some biohackers track their body's behavior to improve performance and health, while others experiment with body modification and AI to access new senses and abilities.

Closeup photo of a green tree frog resting on a leaf.
Open link on omny.fm

If a tree frog was injected with a DNA mixture containing follistatin, a gene that may influence muscle growth, would it become buff? Josiah Zayner hopes so. The ODIN founder made a splash in 2016 when he injected himself with CRISPR during a live conference. By helping people learn how to biohack animals, he hopes people are one step closer to feeling more comfortable "whipping up DIY gene therapy."

Digital art of person holding test tubs while in front of an open laptop.
Open link on newyorker.com

Biohackers hope to mainstream cybernetics and synthetic biology, with potential applications ranging from making puppies and beer glow to curing herpes and making injectable insulin at home. Part of this movement relies on community labs, spaces where anyone can show up and learn (and then engage in) scientific practices such as gene editing. This DIY ecosystem seeks to democratize scientific discovery by increasing access and know-how.

Chips with Everything

On becoming a modern-day cyborg

Photo of tech charging cord coming out of someone's wrist.
Open link on theguardian.com

Implants like pacemakers and some contraceptives have been improving human health for decades. Grinders, a biohacking subculture, seek to increase the intensity and range of such body modifications to push "beyond the human norm." The movement's roots stretch back to at least 1998 when cybernetics professor Kevin Warwick installed an RFID chip in his arm that granted him control over external electronics and became, arguably, the world's first cyborg.

Digital art of abstract collage involving broken Greek statue, cards, and intersecting lines.
Open link on wired.me

Biohacking refers to a range of behavior and technology modifications meant to improve one's quality of life and expectancy. These modifications vary wildly, from caffeine use to RFID chip implants that can unlock a car or place a call. The movement has five main subcultures—transhumanists, grinders, primitivists, pragmatists, and immortalists—that hope to push humanity's limits and restore or augment our abilities.

Art of person who has an exoskeleton covering their right arm.
Open link on thenib.com

When Andrew Greenstone attended a biohacking conference in Austin, Texas, he didn't expect to walk away a newly implanted member of the techy cadre. Partway through the event, he paid $150 to have an NFC chip inserted into his right hand. An NFC chip can be programmed to perform a variety of tasks involving information exchange with other tech. This comic overviews the event.

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