Marcus Wohlsen – Biopunk: DIY Scientists Hack the Software of Life

Marcus Wohlsen

Current, ISBN: 9781617230028, 256 pages, 2011, English
In the 2000s one of the most influential (yet mostly silent) social phenomena involving digital media was the so-called “Makers”, whose name derived from the magazine “Make”, which aimed to support and inspire a growing community of digital bricoleurs. In a sense this was a pop outcome of the vast underground hacker culture, which in turn had probably benefitted from the freedom of expression and reuse of media established by the punk movement. It’s not by accident, then, that these three terms (punk, hacker, maker) are recurrent in this book. Aside from describing how motivated “makers” are happy to mess with DNA, the author describes how explicit parallels between skilled coders and rebel biologists are leading to a shared mission of open sourcing the basic codes of life. In this field guide we meet people outside of academia and industry who are committed to developing brave ideas. Those talented tinkerers using organic substances are considering the “cell as a platform” and are accomplishing projects such as building an “easy-to-build DNA copier” or open sourcing DIY equipment blueprints (one of the most expensive parts of biotech in general). The book revolves around specific stories (and some main figures), utilizing a journalistic rather than academic style that is both critical and accurate. The approach is able to underline most of the parallels with computer hackers, balancing potential threats against national security with the idea that sharing knowledge can develop strong ethics and ideals that can lead anywhere.