'Citizen Bio': What is biohacking? How people pursue DIY biology as cures and body enhancements

While some biohacks are backed by strong scientific evidence and are likely to be beneficial, others based on weak evidence, could be harmful


                            'Citizen Bio': What is biohacking? How people pursue DIY biology as cures and body enhancements
(Showtime)
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Biohacking sounds like it is something quite fanciful and from some science-fiction film. In reality, biohacking is already in practice extensively and can range from minor adjustments to major operations. The process involves biohackers experimenting on their own bodies with the hope of boosting their physical and cognitive performance. Also known as do-it-yourself (DIY) biology, biohacking involves tinkering with the human body's functions. It covers a broad range of activities from performing science experiments on yeast or other organisms to tracking your own sleep and diet to changing your own biology by pumping a younger person’s blood into your veins in the hope that it will fight the aging process.

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A new documentary from Showtime, 'Citizen Bio' follows the stories of four of America's most notorious biohackers and their relationships with Aaron Traywick, a self-proclaimed biohacker whose life took a tragic turn when he was mysteriously found dead at a meditation spa at the age of 28. Following his death, theories began floating around the cause of death and whether it was linked to the potential groundbreaking treatments he was developing -- treatments that could have the power to disrupt the highly regulated pharmaceutical market. Some of the biohackers featured in the documentary are working on developing and doing public experimentation for a Covid-19 vaccine.

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The controversial basis behind biohacking is that the presently available advanced scientific methods and gene-editing technology make it possible for people with almost no formal medical or scientific training to perform genetic experiments at home. Eschewing the concept of institutionalized science -- that only major academic or private institutions can carry out such advanced procedures -- these biohackers use their own bodies to test out experimental drug therapies and treatments for stubborn diseases. These DIY practices are then used to develop quick, cost-effective breakthrough treatments for public use without FDA approval for those people who cannot access modern medicine due to strict regulations. 

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But does the process of biohacking actually work?

While some biohacks are backed by strong scientific evidence and are likely to be beneficial due to them being extensively tested, others based on weak or incomplete evidence, could be either ineffective or actually harmful.

There are, in fact, many ways that the common person does biohacking as well. Have you ever tried intermittent fasting? While its results have not been proven, intermittent fasting -- where you are adjusting the way you eat to affect your health -- is a form of biohacking. So is any fad diet like the Bulletproof diet for instance. Any tweaks you make to your life can also be biohacking. 

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It is the more extreme versions that are a little less trustworthy. These extreme biohacks often involve embedding technology into the body -- say a tracking chip for example. There are those like Aaron Traywick who experimented on medical advancements, like a homemade herpes vaccine, or as mentioned before, those looking for a Covid-19 vaccine. Those types of biohacking may sound alluring, but have to be met with extreme caution.

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'Citizen Bio' will premiere on Showtime on Friday, October 30, at 9/8c.