Sunday, January 8, 2017

BIOPUNK by Marcus Wohlsen

Bill Gates told Wired that if he were a teenager today, he would be hacking biology. “If you want to change the world in some big way,” he says, “that’s where you should start—biological molecules.”  In the 2017 audiobook BIOPUNK author Marcus Wohlsen, a senior technology writer at Wired magazine, explores the recent history and potential of biotechnology, both for good or ill. Subtitle is "Solving Biotech's Biggest Problems in Kitchens and Garages." The audiobook begins with showing how hacking biology by private tinkerers in garage labs may be the wave of the future. (The term “biopunk” elicits visions of punk bands cranking out original songs to stick it to traditional music, but in this case science.) The positive aspects include creating new cancer drugs which Big Pharma can’t do, with their “nuke it from orbit” approach and focus on profits. “A big drug company isn’t interested in tailored drugs for small niche markets” (ie. YOU.) “They want drugs that cover a wide range of cancer patients, and make the most profits.” Problem is, that wide range drug for anything from depression to diabetes can end up making you sick, or killing you with side effects. No cancer is like another, and yours may be unique to you. Wouldn’t you rather have a drug tailored for you, without the side effects which TV commercials always list because they are forced to by law…(”side effects may include vomiting, bleeding, loss of breath…” etc.) Only a biopunk geek has the incentive to work at a small scale. Marcus covers case studies, like the woman who created a genetics test in her apartment, a team that built an open-source DNA replicating machine, and a duo who started a drug company in their kitchen. Wow. Instead of cooking meth or trying to get on The Voice, maybe young people should switch to making legit drugs in their garages. The money is certainly there. Health care costs are “skyrocketing,” as they say. Wohlsen also discusses DIY bioterrorism, GMOs, and whether those fears are unfounded. Will an AI take over the world? How hard is it to engineer a living cell, and until scientists can do it, will real artificial consciousness ever be obtained? These are some of the questions covered in this interesting book. Narrator Paul Michael Garcia, an AudioFile Earphones Award winner and former company member of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, received his classical training in theater from Southern Oregon University, where he worked as an actor, director, and designer.

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