Tag Archives: genetic engineering

CRISPR, Biohacking, And Beauty Standards

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Years ago when I just started working out, a friend of a relative who worked part-time as a personal trainer gave me some advance. At the time, I was not in exceptionally good shape, but I wanted to get healthy and look good with my shirt off. Upon hearing this, he gave me what he called his three simple/inescapable truths about fitness.

Truth #1: To see results, you need to be patient and work out consistently.

Truth #2: To see results, you also need to tweak your diet and eat right.

Truth #3: No matter how hard you work out or how well you eat, everybody is still at the mercy of their genetics.

The passage of time, along with many long hours in the gym, have only proven those truths right. They reflect some of the inescapable obstacles that the multi-billion dollar fitness industry pretends aren’t there. As magician/performer Penn Jillette once so wisely said, “Great T&A requires great DNA.”

That doesn’t stop every fad diet and fitness gimmick from convincing people that they can overcome their genetic limitations and do so without putting in the necessary work. That’s akin to telling people they can become a foot taller just by wishing for it and giving some photogenic infomercial star their credit card information.

For the most part, we are very much at the mercy of our genetic limits and the basic chemistry of our bodies. If you want to lose fat, you got to get your body to burn fat, which can be harder for certain people with certain genetic dispositions. If you want to build muscle, you basically have to work that muscle until it breaks, forcing your body to repair it and make it bigger. Again, there are genetic limits at work here.

Those limits are frustrating. Believe me, I know and I have plenty of soreness to prove it. Despite that frustration, working out has been great for my health, my confidence, and my overall appearance. Those three truths still bug me at times, but I understand and accept them. For certain people, those hard truths are much greater burden.

As I write this, though, those truths are starting to falter. Unlike every other point in the history of fitness, health, and sex appeal, we have a working knowledge of the basic building blocks of the human genome. We have insights and understandings to our genetics that no infomercial star in the 90s could’ve imagined.

We know the genes that cause muscle growth. We know the genes that cause our bodies to burn fat. Some of these discoveries are very new and haven’t yet made their way to weight loss clinics or fad diets. The only barrier to making use of this knowledge is having a tool that can manipulate genes directly and precisely.

If you’ve read my previous articles on the future of treating infectious disease or fixing the flawed parts of the human body, then you know that such a tool exists and is being refined as we speak. That tool is CRISPR and, on top of potentially curing once fatal diseases, it may very well shatter those three truths of fitness. It may also destroy every other hard truth regarding bodybuilding, beauty standards, and sex appeal.

I’m not saying you should cancel your gym membership or junk those free weights just yet. However, the potential for CRISPR to change the way we think about our health and how we stay healthy cannot be overstated. While it’s still very much in the early stages of development, some people are already getting impatient.

That’s where biohackers come in. They’re not quite as badass as they sound, but what they’re doing is still pretty amazing and pretty dangerous. They’re basically skipping the part where they wait for the FDA or the World Health Organization to tell everyone that CRISPR is safe. They actually use themselves as guinea pigs to refine CRISPR.

Now, I need to make clear that this is exceedingly risky and not in the “Jurassic Park” sort of way. Tampering with our genome is uncharted, unregulated territory and we don’t yet have a full understanding of the potential dangers. That said, in the field of fitness and sex appeal, CRISPR may put gyms, plastic surgeons, and weight loss clinics on notice.

Renegade biohackers like Josiah Zayner, have actually live-streamed stunts where they inject themselves with CRISPR. Another biohacker, Aaron Traywick, injected himself with an experimental herpes treatment in front of a live audience. These are not scientists in cold laboratories using lab rats. These are real people tampering with their DNA.

Where this intersects with fitness comes back to those hard genetic limits I mentioned earlier. When you think about it, the way we build muscle and burn fat is pretty crude. We basically have to purposefully strain our bodies, even hurting them in the case of building muscle, to get it to do what we want. It can be imprecise, to say the least.

In theory, CRISPR would be more direct and far less strenuous than spending two hours in a gym every day. Instead of straining the muscles or sweating off the fat, you would just inject CRISPR into targeted areas of your body, like your belly or your bicep, and have it activate/inhibit the necessary genes.

Like cheat codes in a video game, it would prompt muscle growth in the specific areas you want. It would prompt fat burning in the areas you want. You could even take it further than that. Using the same techniques, you could use CRISPR to edit the genes of your skin so that it reduces the risk of blemishes and acne. As someone who suffered horrible acne as a teenager, I can attest to the value of such a treatment.

Some of this isn’t even just theory, either. Remember Josiah Zayner? Well, he injected himself with a CRISPR cocktail designed to block the production of myostatin. Those who are into bodybuilding know why that’s a big deal because blocking myosatin is one of the main functions of steroids.

While Zayner hasn’t gone full Hulk just yet, other more legitimate brands of research have already demonstrated that CRISPR could be the ultimate steroid. Researchers in China used the same technique as Zayner to create a breed of heavily-muscled dogs. This isn’t on paper. This stuff is real and it will affect both our health and our sex appeal.

Imagine, for a moment, standing in front of a mirror and documenting the parts of your body you want shrunk, grown, or smoothed out in some way. Maybe you’ll even make a detailed list, complete with diagrams and a full rendering of how you want your body to look.

Then, once that information is compiled, your personal doctor/biohacker programs all this into a series of targeted CRISPR injections. Some go into your arms. Some go into your abs. Some go into your face, butt, and genitals. If you hate needles, it may get uncomfortable. If you love gaining muscle and sex appeal without any real work, then it’s basically the miracle drug that every bad infomercial failed to deliver.

Considering the beauty industry is worth over $445 billion dollars, it’s pretty much a guarantee that some enterprising biohacker who may or may not already work for a major cosmetics company will make this a commercial product. There’s just too much money to be made along with too many people unsatisfied with how they look.

It may be costly at first, as most new treatments tend to be. People will pay for it, though. If you could exchange spending hours at the gym for just a few injections and get similar results, I think most people would gladly pay a premium for that. Sure, it’s a shortcut and it’s lazy, but if the results are the same, why does it matter?

That’s a question that has many answers, some of which are too difficult to contemplate. One of the reasons we find certain people so beautiful is because that beauty is so rare. Only a handful of women look as beautiful as Jennifer Lawrence or Kate Hudson. Only a handful of men look as beautiful as Brad Pitt and Idris Elba. Some of that beauty comes from hard work and conditions. Some of it is just good genetics.

What happens when that kind of beauty is as easy as administering a few injections with CRISPR? This is a question I already asked in my novel, “Skin Deep.” I offered hopeful, but incomplete answer. I have a feeling, though, that our entire notion of beauty standards will undergo major upheavals once people can shape their bodies the same way they customize their cars.

With CRISPR, we’re not just adding a layer of paint or trying to tweak an old engine. We’re modifying the foundation and scaffolding of our bodies. In theory, people could use CRISPR to achieve an appearance that is otherwise impossible, no matter how many hours are spent in a gym or how many dangerous steroids they inject. For all we know, what counts as sexy 20 years from now will look bizarre to most people today.

These trends will take time to emerge, but they’ll probably emerge faster than most fad diets or exercise gimmicks because once we start tweaking genetics, the old rules no longer apply. All the traditions and truths we’ve had about exercise, bodybuilding, and beauty collapse. It’s hard to know what will manifest in its place.

For a while, we may get a world where most women are thin and pretty while most men are tall and muscular. However, chances are people will get bored of seeing the same thing. As such, they’ll start experimenting. They’ll try coming up with entirely new body shapes, body features, and physiques that defy the existing laws of biology. As long as some people find that sexy, though, it won’t matter.

Then, there’s the impact of CRISPR on athletes. It’s one thing to test for performance enhancing drugs. What happens when some determined athlete injects a bit of LeBron James’ DNA into their genome to improve their basketball skills? What happens when an Olympic athlete tweaks something in their lung DNA to help them run a three-minute mile? How would we even test for that?

There are so many implications, both for sports and for beauty. It’s hard to know how our society will react, but unlike some of the other emerging technologies I’ve mentioned, CRISPR is real and it’s growing rapidly.

It’s still a very young technology and these things take time to develop. For a quick reference, penicillin was discovered in 1928, but it wasn’t commercially available until 1945. By comparison, CRISPR is barely five years old and biohackers are just starting to learn its limits and potential.

As that potential is realized, we may have to revisit other hard truths beyond those pertaining to fitness and health. From body image to sex appeal, a lot is going to change with this technology. It may be overwhelming, at times, but when it comes to sex appeal, humans are nothing if not adaptive.

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Why You SHOULD Donate Your Genome To The Public

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Have you ever wanted to contribute to the future of humanity, but lack the engineering skills or the understanding of quantum mechanics? Well, there are many ways to do so that don’t involve getting a PHD, working for Elon Musk, or volunteering as a guinea pig for medical experiments.

As I speak, medical science is boldly pushing forward in exploring the basic building blocks of human biology. I’m not just referring to the sexy parts either. Since the completion of the Human Genome Project in in the early 2000s, we’ve entered unknown territory in terms of understanding what makes us healthy, what makes us sick, and how we go about treating it.

Beyond simply uncovering new treatments for genetic disease, of which there are many, learning about the fundamentals of human biology is critical to understanding who we are and where we’re going in the future. If the goal of every species is to adapt and survive, then learning about the human genome is akin to giving a light saber to a caveman.

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However, completing the Human Genome Project was just the first step. The primary goal of that project was to simply determine how many genes were in the human genome and how they’re organized within the 3 billion base pairs that make up our chromosomes. It’s not as much a tool as it is an instruction manual with a list of raw materials.

It was an arduous process. Between the time the Human Genome Project started in the early 90s to the time when it was completed over a decade later, the overall cost of sequencing one genome was a hefty $2.7 billion in 1991 dollars. That’s a lot for just one strand of DNA for one species. It’s hard to learn much from anything when it’s that expensive.

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Thankfully, much like early cell phones, science has refined the process and made it cheaper. In fact, it’s gotten a lot cheaper over the past decade. At the moment, it costs just a couple thousand dollars to get your genome sequenced. It’s only going to get cheaper. Some companies, in fact, hope to offer the service for less than $100. That means getting your genome sequenced may one day be cheaper than a set of premium headphones.

This is where your contribution comes in. Last last year, a man made his genome publicly available to the Personal Genome Project in the United Kingdom. That means pretty much anyone with an internet connection can access the specifics of this man’s genetics, right down to the base pair.

While that may seem like an overt surrender of privacy that the Ron Swansons of the world would despise, it’s actually a critical element in the process. It’s not enough to just understand the structure of the human genome. We also need to understand the many variations and diversity within it.

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To better understand why that’s so important, it’s important to remember just how clunky and inexact nature can be. Nature is, by necessity, a blunt instrument that is prone to many flaws. The range of genetic diversity within the human species is what helps us adapt, but it’s also prone to all sorts of flaws.

For most of human history, if not the history of life on Earth, we haven’t been able to do much about these flaws. Nature’s way of dealing with them is through the harsh, tedious, and slow process of natural selection. By learning more about the variations in the human genome, we can skip that process entirely. We can effectively maximize our genetic potential without multiple generations of trial, error, and suffering.

The tools for making use of that knowledge are already in development. I’ve mentioned CRISPR before as a possible method for treating most infectious diseases. That’s just one component in the larger field of genetic engineering, which promises to do more than just treat diseases. It could, in principle, maximize the potential of our genetics in every individual.

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By that, I don’t mean turning every human into a the kind of Übermensch that drives racists, mad scientists, and comic book villains. Like it or not, genetics can be a significant barrier for certain people in terms of realizing their physical, mental, and even sexual goals. If there’s a way to circumvent those barriers, why shouldn’t we seek it?

That’s not to say there aren’t risks. I remember Ian Malcom’s famous speech in “Jurassic Park” as much as anyone who was alive in the early 1990s. We’re not talking about creating monstrous creatures for our own amusement, though. We’re talking about the health, well-being, and suffering of countless individuals, including those alive today and those yet to be born.

In any effort to alleviate suffering and maximize human achievement, knowledge is power and information is the fuel. As it stands, we need more of the latter to improve the former. That’s why contributing your genome is one of the most meaningful things anyone not named Elon Musk can do to further this endeavor.

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That means if you have the ability to participate in the Personal Genome Project, you should seriously consider doing so. There’s still a lot we don’t know about the fundamentals of our own biology. The sheer breadth of human diversity at the genetic level is still not clear, but it’s already astounding in its own right.

By adding your genome to the mix, maybe you’ll reveal a certain trait or mechanism that will help us better understand disease. Maybe your DNA will help refine our understanding of how genetics influence our behavior, appearance, and ability to get along. Maybe doing so will reveal some unexpected heritage that you didn’t know you had.

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If you need a sexier reason for contributing your genome, then consider the possible insights our genes may offer to our sex lives. Perhaps there are genetic factors that effect our ability to form romantic bonds. Perhaps there are factors that effect the intensity, enjoyment, and satisfaction of sex. Even if you’re wary of genetic engineering, isn’t that worth exploring and refining?

There’s a lot to learn and a lot to gain. Some of us might not live long enough to experience those gains, but children alive today may still benefit. A future with less disease, less suffering, and even better sex lives is certainly a future worth working towards.

The opportunity to donate your genome is limited at the moment, but the growing demand for biotechnology and medicine is only accelerating. Even if you’re unable to contribute to the actual science, contributing your genome can be every bit as valuable. Our genome, like our lives, are precious and finite resources. Let’s make the most of them in the name of a better and sexier future.

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