DYSTOPIAN REALITIES: Could Amateur Geneticists be Bioshock Splicers?

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What is Bioshock?

Bioshock is the award winning game created by the studio “2K Boston.” It is the first in what will become a trilogy always following the same dystopian setting, always with a slight twist. The first two games are set in an underwater city known as Rapture, designed by a man by the name of Andrew Ryan. The game is built around combat mechanics that include environmental risks, guns, melee weapons, and most importantly ADAM.

ADAM is a substance discovered by a Rapture Scientist named Brigid Tenenbaum. It was a substance found in “a type of sea slug” that creates steam cells that can change into any type of cell. This new found tap into cell creation led to the grand production of Plasmids. Plasmids were varieties of household helpers, such as fireplace lighters, lighting lamps with electricity, moving objects out of reach. A casual interpretation of the capabilities of this technology. Soon Plasmids were to be used as super powers by a faction of people known as Splicers. The access to this genetic engineering and its unregulated marketing caused these Splicers to become a terrifying player in Rapture’s eventual civil war and to anyone who survived Rapture’s decay.

“What do I have to worry about? It’s just a game,” says the confident gamer.
“Hold on to your pants,” says a confident journalist.

A closer look at the concept of ADAM may be worth investigating. Most people are aware of genetic engineering, but to most of us, that’s something only scientists in labs with high security clearances, hours of lab time and access to complex equipment can accomplish. Right?

Enter CRISPR: Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats.

Take a look at this guy. Yeah sure it’s a bacteria, SO WHAT it’s carrying a slice of RNA?

Well, its like a DNA search engine with a pair of scissors. It is a top of the line, hot off the press, new-fangled way to modify DNA with surgical precision. The CRISPR gene editing technique is leading the way for scientists in the field of gene editing. All it takes is introducing the slice of RNA to the bacteria and letting them rip on a bunch of cells. So simple in fact that there is a rise in amateur biologists that have taken to “biohacking.” What events lead to this sort of development of amateur geneticists?

Designer Genes or Designer Super Powers?

Technology is advancing at such a fantastic rate, manufacturers and companies are making products increasingly available to everyone. This gives more power to nonprofessionals who seek to apply these techniques recreationally. Now, the genetic engineering in Bioshock is a technology that’s being worked on. The ability to rewrite your genome on the fly. The ability to rewrite and not be held liable for passing on those genes because it isn’t inter-generational! With the available access to the internet, it’s easy to get ahold of the equipment needed to follow through with the process of editing your genome, DIY style! Lucky for anyone in the market, there are even companies selling DIY kits. Even better!

A man at the front of this movement goes by the name Josiah Zayner. He launched “The Odin,” a company who believes the future will be dominated by genetic engineering. Zayner claims that his first attempt at CRISPR editing himself was successful. Using the technique he performed a fecal transplant and changed the genome of the bacteria in his gut. Bad news for the old bacteria, but good news for him! Apparently, since the trial Zayner reports an absence of blood in his stool that he had before.

“[The] blood in my stool went away and never returned, I don’t suffer from diarrhea and other issues on a daily or weekly basis. Though I don’t know if I am cured or if there is a cure, I sure feel like it was a cure!”

Implications to this sort of development are huge. As with any series advancement and origination backing it. In the Bioshock universe, Rapture was a city built with the pursuit of a true laissez-faire economy. In other words, there were no regulations on any product and the citizens were left to privatize any and all businesses including police, firefighters, and health care. This led to the marketing of the discovery of ADAM as Plasmids, and give powers to anyone with the money to obtain it. We’re given a possible glimpse into a world where CRIPSR gene editing is given both a platform and allowed to run as far as people can take it. This led to criminals exploiting the technology to pursue toxic motives. With any serious advancement we need to keep pace and give it thoughtful regulations to allow for safety and give a platform for the technology to spread and evolve.

Even a procedure as revolutionary as CRISPR isn’t without faults. Since it’s a new technology professionals haven’t had the time to completely understand it and perfect it. More specifically, as of right now we have found that the CRISPR technique can snip and replace other segments of the genome that weren’t a target sequence. This means that there could be possible “side effect mutations.” This is interesting because in Bioshock, Splicers would be met with disfigurement as a result of their ADAM addictions.

As we move into the future we’re going to be met with rapidly developing technology and means for the public to tap into that knowledge. We’ll be met with the possibility for the technology to outpace our means to review and regulate it for the public’s safety. It’s important to ensure this doesn’t happen through careful legislation to support the review of new patents and legislation to guard the way the public uses potentially dangerous technologies. One such example includes the FDA’s recent update on the sell of CRISPR gene editing kits, they specify that it cannot be used for human genome editing. We’ll have to watch closer in the future for new developments!

Stay tuned next week! I’m starting a series called “Dystopian Realities” outlining different dystopian concepts and discussing a particular tech outlined in such a dystopia that could be a reality! Thanks for reading!


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