Thursday, July 7, 2011

BIOPUNK by Marcus Wohlsen ✰✰✰1/2

This book definitely has an interesting premise in its theme of do-it-yourself biohackers championing open-sourcing of intellectual property in an effort to pool research regarding DNA.  Don’t let the science scare you; author Marcus Wohlsen makes biology and the blueprint of life very accessible.  In essence, this work deals with young, bright individuals who set up biology wet labs in their garages and kitchens and attempt to do for DNA what Bill Gates and Steve Jobs did for computers.  They are driven by the belief that free access to one another’s findings, as opposed to the strict confidentiality of the major biotech companies, will lead to major discoveries and medical cures.  A pooling of intellectual resources, so to speak.
My first thought was concern that while this group is earnestly seeking cures and diagnostic avenues, there is bound to be another group bent on using the same technology with the opposite in mind.  While the ethical argument is raised, Wohlsen does not spend any ink on how real and present that threat is-information which I would have appreciated in this age of global terrorism.
A number of interesting people are introduced who are involved in various forms of research and who have a variety of world views.  While some have smaller, more attainable goals in mind, such as finding a less expensive early detection test for which insurance companies might be more willing to pay.  Others see the end goal as being able to engineer life itself.
Within the narrow scope of those choosing to use their kitchen sink research for what most would view as positive goals, Wohlsen’s research is impressive.  As I said, the flip side-those who are intent on evil-is not covered at all.  However, the book could use a good editor to help with organization (mine was a pre-editing galley, so that issue might well be ironed out) and the ending was rambling with odd, inconsequential references to punk music.
Ranking:  I would give this book four stars for the excellent job it does presenting the good side of bio hacking, but I really felt that the opposite side needed to be told as well to lend balance to the ethical questions.  So...
✰✰✰✰ I will round to four stars in those venues which do not allow for 1/2 star rankings, but my true rating is ✰✰✰1/2 stars for lack of balance.  I am assuming the organizational issues and ending were worked out in the editing phase.

1 comment:

  1. This sounds like an interesting read. A bit unnerving though, if one would fixate on the other end of the spectrum, which I think I would. Thanks for the review.