The word biopunk has been bandied about for some time now. Google already has over 1,000 results for a search on the term. R.U. Sirius wrote a piece in Rolling Stone a couple years ago about the possibility of garage biotechnologists, a movement he called biopunk. But I’d like to throw a new meaning for the concept out there: the near future (already here?) biotechnology black market.
The biotechnology market has already captured the imaginations of the business world. For the past few years it’s been hyped as the next big thing, the new dot-com bubble. For instance, Paul Allen wants to turn a neighborhood in Seattle into a biotech industry fueled urbanist utopia.
Ample private and federal investment is being poured into biotech research, but I expect U.S policies banning cloning research and limiting funding for stem cell research will effectively limit the U.S.’s role in biotechnology development. Less restrictive policies and/or cheaper labor will give Europe, Russia, and Asia advantages in the global biotech industry.
But other factors will drive an underground biotechnology market: the crippling expense of prescription drugs, health insurance, malpractice insurance, and student loan debts.
Chemistry students have been making money manufacturing LSD, MDMA, and other illegal drugs for years. But the demand for black market prescription drug clones could create a new use for the college chemistry lab. Imagine thousands of undergrads manufacturing HIV meds and other expensive drugs for cheap underground resale.
Meanwhile, medical school students, un-licensed doctors, or even licensed doctors trying to keep up with insurance payments will be performing a myriad of unauthorized procedures. Genesis P. Orridge could be at the forefront of a movement again. Sex changes are nothing new, but P. Orridge and Lady Jaye’s sex change as installation art project is on the forefront of the body modification movement, which constantly grows more extreme. Face transplants are about to become a reality. But these black market surgical procedures won’t be limited to weird body art projects. Uninsured Americans will be seeking all types of surgical procedures on the black market, and finding students and doctors to perform them will become increasingly easier.
Of course, those policy restrictions will create another biotech black market: clandestine cloning research labs and illegal human testing projects. Illegal human testing is almost certainly already a reality. And even with recent improvements in the job market, there are still thousands of desperate unemployed people to be taken advantage of.
And let’s not forget R.U. Sirius’s frightening prediction from his Rolling Stone article: garage production of germ weapons.