Alright, this post is coming your way because there is a bit of confusion out there regarding a few oft-used terms: DIYbio, grinding (or grinders), and biohacking. Hopefully the following explanations will clear up any confusion regarding the terms.
Seeing as how this is a DIYbio site, I thought I’d start with this one. The DIYbio tag is the one that comes closest to my interests in actually doing biology, biological experiments, and synthetic biology all on my own. DIYbio is known by many variants, including DIY biology, Bio DIY, etc. From time to time, it is used synonymously with biohacking. In the sense that DIYbio covers DIY synthetic biology, nothing could be more true. Synthetic biology is at the core of what most DIYbio enthusiasts are after, namely, modifying the DNA or otherwise affecting the microbiology of a living thing in order to produce a novel outcome not found in nature. This can range from the not so useful (like making microbes spell out your name using a bio-printer) to the extremely useful (such as making bacteria produce things like insulin for diabetics and thus saving millions of lives).
Synthetic biology is so much in its infancy that there are only a handful of universities in the world that offer degrees in synthetic biology at any level (those that do exist are at the Masters or Doctoral levels). Also, as pointed out by some in the industry, a lot of people who work in the professional world of microbiology, genetics, etc, aren’t really free to pursue interesting ideas. Most work for businesses that, like most businesses, demand results (and ones they can monetize, at that). This means that they don’t really get a chance to “tinker,” as one DIYbio leader put it. DIYbio satisfies that “tinkering” need. There are no bosses, no deadlines, no Q2 reports to justify high stock prices to share holders. It’s all about what ideas you have and taking the time to tackle those ideas. DIYbio enthusiasts have done some cool things, and in the not to distant future, I hope to highlight many of them, including stuff that comes out of iGEM and some local, but famous DIYbio labs. Bottom line is this: DIYbio is something you can do on your own and that has, as it’s goal, a modification of a biological system by way of some engineering component. (My apologies if that definition is too specific. I anticipate that it might be, for some).
“Grinders” is a term for people who do body modifications with the intent to update their body with new technology. Think “cyborg” and you’ve got the idea (albeit a dark idea that is decades beyond what anyone can do now). Grinders would get excited about things like sticking a magnet in their ear and converting cell phone or radio signals into magnetic frequencies so that they could hear a phone call or radio station without actually wearing earphones. Sound crazy? It’s already been done. Grinders are at their earliest stage. Most of their technology is as simple as it is bold. We tend to think of the computing world as being wholly independent of the biological ones, but Grinders would question this assumption at its very roots. If you want an introduction into grinding and the grinding culture, check out this TED Talk:
Welcome to the muddiest term of them all. I used to call DIYbio “biohacking,” but abandoned it because it is too broad and crosses over into categories that, as much as people try to make them, aren’t that scientific. Biohacking can be an umbrella term that would encompass DIYbio, grinding, body modification, and could even be used as slang for the academic world of synthetic biology. Essentially, biohacking literally means hacking some biological system, and when you think about it, implanting RFID chips under your skin, altering the DNA of E. Coli, and even “teaching your body to burn fat differently,” could all be considered hacking a biological system.
This last reference was not made by accident. There is a huge contingency (hopefully a fad- sorry nutritional biohackers), that is using the term “biohacking” to refer to the practice of understanding and modifying the way your body works in order to produce better fitness results. This can include drinking things like “bullet-proof coffee” (which contains butter and other crazy stuff), or eating a special diet in order to make your body perform in a certain way. I can’t speak too critically of this nutritional or athletic take on biohacking, since I have done minimal research on it, but one thing is for sure: synthetic biology and this nutritional sort of biohacking are worlds apart in their practices and goals. So while biohacking is my favorite term, simply because it sounds so bad ass, it’s too murky of a term for me to use with any degree of confidence. I chose DIY-bio for the name of this website to avoid confusion from both sides. I didn’t want DIYbio people thinking I was a nutritional biohacker or vis a versa.