Two Biohackers Decided to Create Designer Babies and Modify the Gene Code
Former LedgerX engineer and Bitcoin Core developer 29-year-old Brian Bishop, along with scientist Max Berry, opened his own business focused on creating designer babies and modifying the human germline.
The company was established in May 2018 with focus “on human genetic germline engineering”. According to Bishop, laboratory work has already begun, and the company has its first customers – a couple of potential parents.
The enterprise plans to allow parents to have transgenic children who can “beef up muscle without weightlifting”, will have long-lived genes and AB+ blood.
Brian Bishop is a transhumanist, so he believes that people can be improved with the help of technology. He has been urging that it’s high time to do something with the current people’s health.
Bishop is already well-known in the field of cryptocurrency: recently he has worked for LedgerX, a bitcoin exchanger, and even has added a couple of lines of code to the basic software on which this digital currency works. However, his most visible public role is the mediator: he has moderated discussion forums, appeared at conferences, and published transcripts.
The perspective of editing human genes using CRISPR or similar technology had been the theory until the end of 2018.
Then the Chinese scientist He Jiankui stated that he had improved the twins’ DNA to make them resistant to AIDS. Their father had HIV. The experiment caused an international response. And also stimulated DIY-biohackers.
In general, the scientific community reacted negatively to experiments in China, but biohackers like Bishop believed that He Jiankui did not deserve such a reaction, because he had tried to carry out an obvious next step in human history.
While new guidelines and public censures can keep under control professional scientists with government grants, they do not hold back people like Bishop, who possesses himself as “relatively well-known self-taught biohacker”. Such people are able to spend thousands of dollars on promoting their own visions of creating genetic superpowers in newborns.
Several weeks ago anonymous sent to the MIT Technology Review editorial board a couple of slides from Bishop’s business proposal. The company is seeking funding at the present stage. The man forecasts, that the creation of hundreds of thousands of improved children will bring billions in revenues.
According to Bishop’s slides, designer people will not be created in such a way as Chinese scientist did.
Instead, in the process of biohacking, gene therapy will be performed on the testicles of a male volunteer. Thus, sperm, which contains DNA with enhancements, can be used to ovum fertilization.
These two entrepreneurs may look mad. For example, they say that their targeted market is “the whole mankind,” and propose to spread the gene therapy virus, which contains all the useful information about genetic instructions.
The men said that they had just started preliminary animal studies and did not come close to trying this on a human.
Bishop says it will take several years. And the men need $2 million for the development.
Bishop and Berry have also a laboratory in Eastern Europe, where research experiments on mice are conducted. The researchers try to verify their theoretical issues.
In several cases, the researchers had limited success with the inclusion of genetic material in the testicles of animals. This can be done by inserting invisible DNA chains and applying electric shock, so that the cells, that produce the sperm, take on the genetic burden. So far no transgenic mice have been created.
The question also lies in the ethical spotlight.
Bitcoin developer hoped to get ethical support from leading genetic scientist George McDonald Church from Harvard, who had presented dozens of papers on improvements in PCSK9 and CCR5 genes. But he didn’t receive any answer. Also, he was trying to contact other ethicists. There were no answers as well.
Nevertheless, in summer, 2018, the UK’s leading ethics council disagreed with the conventional wisdom, issuing a report saying that there is nothing wrong with trying to “influence” the abilities, bodies or views of children by changing their DNA. That’s may become an ethical pillar for Bishop’s further steps.
And what do you think about all this? Are such steps real and, more important, ethical?