The synthetic biology is an engineering approach to biology. The aim is to re-design of existing, natural biological systems for useful purposes as well as design and construction of new biological parts, devices, and systems.
An Organism’s sensing, metabolic, and decision-making capabilities are all encoded within their genome as unique sequence of DNA bases. These base pairs can be considered as bits of computer software, that helps determine how a cell grows and what goes on inside it or what it produces. By changing an organism’s genome sequence, we can alter these cellular functions, and thereby engineer them.
CRISPR has become one of the most popular gene editing tools as it is fast, cheap, and relatively easy to use. It can alter DNA sequences by locating, cutting and replacing DNA at specific locations or modify genes thereby modify the function of that gene. The CRISPR-Cas9 system uses modified RNA sequence to recognizes and binds to target DNA sequence in genome. The RNA also binds to the Cas9 enzyme that cuts the DNA at the targeted location. This has enabled Gene therapy, a therapeutic approach that aims to add, delete, or correct genetic material to treat a disease.
CRISPR, and other biotechnologies could also be used to enhance [or degrade] the performance of military personnel, make soldiers “stronger, smarter, more capable, lethal give them more endurance than other humans.
For example, synthetic biology now enables specific engineering of the human gut microbiome that promises to improve digestive health and cognition — two areas crucial to warfighter performance. And microscopic animals nicknamed “water bears” are showing promise to protect soldiers from the health effects of radiation exposure by boosting capacity for DNA repair or even preventing damage to DNA in the first place. Conversely, the human microbiome could be co-opted to harm humans — for instance, through the development of agents that can target the natural microbiome or cancel the effects of therapeutic microbiomes.
The cyborg is the hybridization of the human and technology, applying technologies into the human body with the goal to make a better version of the human body. The term is the contraction of the cybernetic organism. It applies to an organism that has restored function or enhanced abilities due to the integration of some artificial component or technology that relies on some sort of feedback. While cyborgs are commonly thought of as mammals, including humans, they might also conceivably be any kind of organism.
According to some definitions of the term, the physical attachments that humans have with even the most basic technologies have already made them cyborgs. In a typical example, a human with an artificial cardiac pacemaker or implantable cardioverter-defibrillator would be considered a cyborg, since these devices measure voltage potentials in the body, perform signal processing, and can deliver electrical stimuli, using this synthetic feedback mechanism to keep that person alive.
In medicine, there are two important and different types of cyborgs: the restorative and the enhanced. Restorative technologies “restore lost function, organs, and limbs.” The key aspect of restorative cyborgization is the repair of broken or missing processes to revert to a healthy or average level of function. There is no enhancement to the original faculties and processes that were lost.
On the contrary, the enhanced cyborg “follows a principle, and it is the principle of optimal performance: maximising output (the information or modifications obtained) and minimising input (the energy expended in the process)”. Thus, the enhanced cyborg intends to exceed normal processes or even gain new functions that were not originally present.
Implants, especially cochlear implants, that combine mechanical modification with any kind of feedback response are also cyborg enhancements. Some theorists cite such modifications as contact lenses, hearing aids, smartphones, or intraocular lenses as examples of fitting humans with technology to enhance their biological capabilities.
A brain-computer interface, or BCI, provides a direct path of communication from the brain to an external device, effectively creating a cyborg. Research into invasive BCIs, which utilize electrodes implanted directly into the grey matter of the brain, has focused on restoring damaged eyesight in the blind and providing functionality to paralyzed people, most notably those with severe cases, such as locked-in syndrome. This technology could enable people who are missing a limb or are in a wheelchair the power to control the devices that aid them through neural signals sent from the brain implants directly to computers or the devices. It is possible that this technology will also eventually be used with healthy people.
The rise of the biocyborg
Most of the traditional cyborgs are based on the science of cybernetics. This is the science of communication and control in the animal and the machine. For the biocyborg, there is a paradigm shift and it is based on synthetic biology and genetic engineering.
The advances of synthetic biology and the easy and low-cost access to biotechnologies of enhancement and gene editing are transforming the power anyone can have on the body.
Gene editing and synthetic biology allow a profound control on the biology of our bodies. They differ radically from the technologies of the “everyday cyborg” or the “space cyborg” as this changes can be permanent, potentially hereditary and could also evolve as any biological matter.
The International Summit on Human Gene Editing summarized different risks associated to gene editing :
(i) the risks of inaccurate editing (such as off-target mutations) and incomplete editing of the cells of early-stage embryos (mosaicism); (ii) the difficulty of predicting harmful effects that genetic changes may have under the wide range of circumstances experienced by the human population, including interactions with other genetic variants and with the environment; (iii) the obligation to consider implications for both the individual and the future generations who will carry the genetic alterations; (iv) the fact that, once introduced into the human population, genetic alterations would be difficult to remove and would not remain within any single community or country; (v) the possibility that permanent genetic “enhancements” to sub-sets of the population could exacerbate social inequities or be used coercively; and (vi) the moral and ethical considerations in purposefully altering human evolution using this technology.