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DNA is not a programming language

Our Expert Voices conversation on DIY biohacking.

DNA is not a programming language. Any analogy that ignores or downplays the fundamental rule of biology — that a cell makes imperfect copies of itself — is going to lead down a frustrating and unproductive path. So far, this school of thought has yielded little of serious value, while tainting prospective bioengineers with inaccurate abstractions and expectations.

As long as DIY biohacking cleaves to these analogies and rehashes the subsequent failures, I cannot get "excited" to look forward to its impact in 20 years. The last 20 years we have barely learned what the genes even DO, another 20 years seems quite quick to be so certain of engineering them! Thus, a question about which gene we will be blithely editing makes us look like we have a skill we don't actually have, or even see a way to get. It ignores decades of careful work setting up ethical frameworks for how such work should be done and how it should be reviewed.

Bottom line: Considering DIY biohacking an inevitable reality by 2040 is ammunition for fear and misinformation without providing any framework for discussion or edification.

Other voices in the conversation: