Friday, May 12, 2023

How to use Biohacking to Survive the Apocalypse

 I’ve never been much of a prepper. My family has though. My biological father was an OG prepper back in the 1980s. Weapons and everything. Then in 1999 when my uncle, who just so happened to be the Pastor of the church we attended, said that the Y2K computer bug was going to cause an economic meltdown and computer systems would cease to function, my family did a little stockpiling.

Since then, I have been a little hesitant to be a prepper. I feel like I have already dodged two apocalypses and I shouldn’t push my luck. A few months ago, I had this urge to see how difficult it would be to make the penicillin antibiotic by growing Penicillium. Surprisingly, It was easy. You add the fungus to some liquid culture media and it secrets the antibiotic into the liquid. Well, that’s cool. Me and the team started dreaming about how we could drive around in abandoned ice cream trucks and create a post-apocalyptic drug empire by selling people antibiotics. What else is possible then? What else would people need in a post apocalyptic biohacking kit?

While things like clothes are going to be plentiful, thanks to Shein and guns, thanks to the NRA. Food, medicine and electricity will eventually be much harder to get. The cool thing is that they can all be produced biologically. To this end we are releasing a apocalypse prepper kit at The Open Discovery Institute that contains biological organisms in hermetically sealed containers to help you survive the apocalypse.



Some estimates say that Penicillin alone has saved over 200 million lives and adds 10 years to the global life expectancy. The cool thing about antibiotics is that a number of the original antibiotics were discovered because they are produced in naturally occurring in microorganisms. Many modern antibiotics are more complicated and developed through chemical synthesis methods or modifications of some of these original antibiotics. But the truth is that despite the fear mongering of antibiotic resistant infections, a lot of these original antibiotics still work. That’s not to say they work for all infections and all organisms but they do a pretty good job.

So why don’t we use penicillin nowadays? There are a lot of reasons but most of them stem from the fact that modern antibiotics that are really similar to penicillin work across a broader spectrum and have less side effects and allergies. The great thing about penicillin is that it can be easily produced with the fungus Penicillium chrysogenum which is included in our Prepper kit.

It’s pretty simple, add some Penicillium fungus to water and nutrients, and the penicillin antibiotic is secreted into the liquid. Because the fungus grows on top of the liquid, surface area is important, i.e. you should use something that is long and flat rather than tall and skinny. Producing antibiotics can take 1-4 weeks depending on growth conditions. Generally, when the Penicillium mat starts to become the thickness of a pencil or so, you should definitely have antibiotics. These mats can be cut up and will regrow when used to inoculate new liquids.

In our experiments, we found that you can grow penicillium fungus on any liquid that contains some amount of nutrients. What does nutrients mean? Generally, all organisms need a carbon source, a nitrogen source and micronutrients. Sugar, honey, fruit or any plant matter generally will contain sugar but meat doesn’t. Nitrogen is less important than carbon and usually anything that isn’t pure sugar also contains nitrogen, so not much of a worry. Same with micronutrients. Soil is also a good source of micronutrients, so sprinkle and little in to help with the growth and antibiotic production no matter recipe you use for your liquid.

Post apocalyptic growth media ideas for penicillium

  1. Sugar, dirt and water

  2. Mashed or ground up fruit and water

  3. Boiled vegetation, cool before use

  4. Milk(whether old or not)

  5. Honey and water

  6. Most non-meat foods can be used mixed with water and probably pretty much all processed or canned goods

Because penicillin doesn’t work against all infections we also decided to include Streptomyces griseus in our Prepper kit which is a bacteria that produces the antibiotic streptomycin.

Streptomycin works on a broad spectrum of bacteria and in certain doses can even work on some fungi. It is a good complementary antibiotic to penicillin. Despite being bacteria it’s growth and antibiotic secretion are very similar to Penicillium. You can follow the same steps outlined above for growth and production of Streptomycin.

Other medicines

Cancer drugs like Taxol come from the bark of yew trees and while yew trees aren’t included in our Prepper Kit (obviously, it’s a tree). It’s a good thing to know.

Insulin is a very important drug to many people alive today. Originally, insulin was obtained from animal pancreases, but now it is produced through genetically modified organisms. A goal of ours is to eventually include a method and genetically modified organism that can produce insulin. It’s a work in progress.


Obviously, plants are a great source of food. But if you’re one of those people who thinks that you just plant a tomato seed and magically, weeks later you have food it’s not gonna happen. Farming takes planning, timing and work. Not to mention it requires that you be in a single location for an extended period of time. Our Prepper kit is for when you need food in weeks, not months. When you might not have lots of sunlight or water. Or maybe just want to supplement your diet. Organisms like algae and mushrooms can provide a very reasonable diet and are very easy to produce and require very little care from you.


For our Prepper kit we chose one of the easiest to grow mushrooms, Oyster mushrooms. They are an excellent source of protein, fiber and potassium. Oyster mushrooms can be grown on almost any material that contains cellulose. Examples of things you can grow oyster mushrooms on are clothing, books, decaying organic matter, natural fiber furniture like couch cushions or curtains, and so much more.  The great thing is that mushrooms don’t require sunlight. So if you’re trapped in your bunker somewhere or there is nuclear winter, you can produce a consistent source of food. Given the right conditions, these mushrooms will take only 2-4 weeks to fruit. Mushrooms also store well after being dried out and the spores that form underneath the cap are easy to store for growing more mushrooms.


Algae is seriously one of the best food sources and one of the easiest to farm. It contains fats which can be hard to come by, protein and calories in abundance. The strain of algae included in our Prepper Kit is Chlorella vulgaris. We chose Chlorella because it is really good at growing without the need of external supplements like many algae. Literally, they only require water and sunlight to grow. Depending on growth conditions, the doubling time for the algae is 3-4 days so once you get up a good size culture you can be churning out lots of algae. Algae doesn’t grow well in tap water, but you probably won’t have access to tap water after some catastrophe. Rain water, lake/pond/river water or any water that comes from the environment works best. If you must use tap or distilled water, make sure that you add soil or some form of nutrient source like those listed above for growing other organisms. The cool thing about algae is that you are really only limited by your container size. A pool filled with rainwater and a good starter culture size and you can produce an abundance of food. Run the water through a fabric to collect the algae and dry it for long-term storage.

Electricity and Chemistry

Electricity is going to be hard to come by and solar panels will eventually break down and batteries will run out. Fuel can definitely be generated by creating and distilling alcohol, but since yeast is so abundant in our natural environment I imagine most people won’t need a source of yeast. I have a feeling that batteries and electricity will eventually be in short supply, so being able to create batteries from scratch will become very important. An electrochemical battery can be created by combining metals and acid. Where do you get acid from? Natural sources of acid can be hard to come by but there are certain bacteria that will happily produce acetic acid(also known as vinegar) from sugar. In our Prepper kit we included Bacillus amyloliquefaciens. This bacteria has the added ability to produce thick biofilms that can be used as biomaterial textiles for clothing or fabric.

A wet pile or voltaic pile battery can easily be made by sandwiching metals between acetic acid soaked pieces of paper or cardboard or similar. A battery like this can be made as easily as sanding down one side of a modern penny to expose the zinc and leaving the other side copper then stacking the pennies in the same orientation separated by paper soaked in acetic acid. This can produce around 0.5v per penny at low current but enough to power things like LED lights.

Acetic acid can be used in a wide variety of synthesis methods in chemistry including the synthesis of aspirin. Take some salicylic acid from plant leaves, some hydrochloric acid from an animal stomach and acetic acid and you can make some amounts of aspirin.

As we explore this world of post apocalyptic biohacking we will continue to add more organisms to these kits but for now we think we have done a pretty good job in exploring the initial landscape of biohacking the apocalypse.

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

How to Extract and Grow Stem Cells in your Garage

Stem cells are funny. They are either a miracle cure for anything that ails you or you’re baby killer for working with them. But like, stem cells are just cool. Can we all just chill out a bit? Crack a cold beer and extract some from our belly fat so we can play with them?

Most of the cells we see and work with are cells that have been differentiated into a cell type. A skin cell. A bone cell. A plant cell. A muscle cell. Obviously, these cells didn't all start off this way. When they were an embryo they didn't have a fate yet or even as an adult many cells die and need to be replenished and so the new ones come from somewhere. That's where stem cells come in. In their most naive state pluripotent stem cells can turn into most every cell type in an adult human. These cells generally either come from embryos or need to be created using genetic modification. The type of stem cells most people are familiar with are mesenchymal stem cells. This is what people goto scammy clinics to get purified from their fat and then reinjected. These cells can only differentiate into a few cells types, bone, muscle, neuron and cartilage and you can’t be certain what they will differentiate into if injected in the body. One lady had bone form in her eye… But mesenchymal stem cells are cool because they are really easy to obtain as they can come from places like fat tissue. Why fat? Adipose tissue, as it is called scientifically, doesn't replicate. If you take some fat cells and put them in growth media you won't get more fat cells. This makes it easy to isolate stem cells from as they are the only ones in the culture that will grow.

Are you thinking what I'm thinking then? Why hasn't anyone DIY extracted their own stem cells by taking a little fat from their body? It sounds like so much fun. Maybe you weren't thinking that? But I hope you were. This is the way most of my projects start. Finding something interesting that can be done if people just put in a little time and effort to figure out how to do it. See most of these mesenchymal stem cells come from fat tissue extracted for liposuction or something similar and most protocols are for that. What if instead you just used a syringe and stuck it into your belly and pulled on the plunger? That's kind of a DIY liposuction right? This is generally when I get to the point of thinking that the idea is either too crazy or just the right amounts of crazy. And let's be honest I always try it. Once my brain has thought hard enough about something it's almost impossible to just not do it. So in typical fashion I talked to the other members of the Central Dogma Collective (CDC), David Ishee and Dariia Dantseva, about it. David wanted to use a scalpel to cut a big hole in his belly and pull out fat which was waaayyy crazier than my idea. Dariia, back in worn torn Ukraine, was all in if she could manage to find the materials needed which was no small feat over there right now. 

So I convinced David that we should use a syringe and not a scalpel and we went for it. 

I didn't imagine it would be so easy for being so hard. We decided we would stick a 16g needle into our belly and suck some fat up, soak it in collagenase to detach cells from each other and from the fat, and then put it in media that would help the stem cells grow. That does seem real easy. The hardest part of the whole thing was going to be getting the cells. That didn't bug me so much because I have a really high pain tolerance. I have enough piercings and tattoos, done enough drawing of my own blood and injecting myself with shit, that I am not unfamiliar with pain. I experience pain on a regular basis just on account of being me. It still hurts when I do these things but it doesn't Hurt. It's like, I've just learned to redirect that portion of my brain when experiencing pain. I've experienced pretty traumatic pain in my life. I once fractured both my ankles rock climbing by myself and needed to hike a mile back to my car. I definitely passed out for a second when I got there. That wasn't as painful though as when I had my vasectomy surgery. They literally did surgery on me without anesthetic. They didn’t inject enough. I almost puked, I almost fainted, I was clammy and pale but sweating profusely. Since then that's how I scale pain, nausea is borderline too much pain and then when I feel lightheaded and dizzy I've gone too far. Everything else is just meh. This is all to say I chose to extract my fat without any lidocaine anesthetic because I wanted to feel like I was invested, like I was sacrificing something for these cells. To me, for my art, there usually always needs to be sacrifice. Usually that sacrifice is time and effort but in this case it was pain and a literal piece of me. 

When the day of came I was pretty calm. I wore a pink shirt so any blood stains would blend in. I asked David if he wanted to go first but he declined on account of he wanted to learn from my mistakes. Seems logical but come on fam. There wasn’t much work up to it. I cleaned my skin with alcohol and then went for it. When the needle went through my skin there was a little pop and it shook David a little bit. Something I think he was not looking forward to. It didn’t really phase me. I've stuck myself with enough needles to know that I'm a slow stabber. I like it to be controlled and steady but that also usually means more pain. At least this time I get to put that pain on the alter of art. That wasn't the painful part though. Fishing around underneath the skin with the needle and trying to suck out fat hurt. I mean, it hurt 70 year old Johnny Cash style. Occasionally, I would snag some tissue and it would send a shooting pain through my abdomen that would send another drop of sweat down my back but I couldn’t stop. Not after I had gone that far. After about 10 minutes of that I could feel the nausea. Well probably after 5 minutes but I had to keep going till some fat tissue actually came out. I never imagined I would be so happy to see that yellowish gelatinous fatty glob. I just started laughing, kind of like that inappropriate hysterical laughing that can only happen after suffering through something only to see it succeed. I didn't puke which was good. David’s turn. 

He gladly used anesthetic after he saw what I went through. He also took far less time to acquire his fat. He was right. Next time I go second. Processing the samples was pretty simple. The fat actually separates pretty well when you mix it in liquid like any oil would. Shake it up a bit and centrifuge down anything that will centrifuge down and there ya’ go. We couldn't really be sure we had stem cells until we added chemicals to make them change into different cell types but that also worked out fairly well using standard recipes others had used. I now have Jo-neurons, Jo-bone and Jo-fat growing in the incubator along with my stem cells.

What's next? 

Trying to grow tissues and mini organs called organoids. Seeing just how much bone we can grow. And trying to see if stem cells alter the healing time of wounds. Imagine having an incubator of stem cells at home to use every time you get a cut.

When I do one of these experiments, these pieces of performance art, I hope it pushes us closer to that biopunk future I want to live in. Still not quite there though.

If you want a more detailed protocol of what went down check out the CDC website at

If you want to watch videos of the experiment subscribe to my Patreon

Friday, June 17, 2022

Your BioArt is Dum

 Sorry I disappeared for a couple weeks. I participated in a Art show. Did a talk for SXSW and am on my way to New York for a corporate talk. My life is busy and when it's not I'm lazy. I would way rather drink a glass of bourbon and watch Survivor than write most evenings. I love writing but sometimes I have difficulty finding time to just be a human. Still I wanted to write about the Art show and my feelings around Art in general.

I still go back an forth on whether I consider myself an Artist but I guess I feel alot more like an Artist than I do a scientist. The "science" experiments I do more as a form of self-expression than anything else. I have a thing against defining myself and the work I do which might be more negative than positive. I think sometimes my iconoclasm and need to feel and be different is more of a curse. But, like, calling me an Artist isn't wrong. My "Art" has been in the SF MoMA, Philadelphia MoMA, the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian among others. I did a performance with the Chromochord at NY MoMA PS1. I had multiple pieces on display at ZKM in Germany and collaborated with famed Artist Lynn Hershman Lesson. Everything on paper would seem to say that I'm an Artist. I still question it though.

A couple weeks ago I helped participate in and organize an Art show, titled Anomalous in Nature curated by Kessler. It was probably the first non-museum Art show my work has ever been featured in. (That sentence was so pretentious I had to write it). But I think this event made me feel more like an Artist than anything has. See, I didn't goto Art school. I never had to grind it out in Art shows and galleries and try to convince people to purchase or display my Art. I feel like I cheated a little bit. All the work other Artists have had to put in I didn't. I haven't had to commodify my Art to make a living. Maybe I have no right to call myself an Artist or challenge what people are doing but

BioArt is mostly shit

Including my own work

I say that because the genre of Art is so stuck in gluing petri dishes of growing organisms to the wall that the craft doesn't develop. It's very speculative which to me makes it lack that oomph that I want from Art. I want it to make me feel something or challenge my beliefs. Most of it just makes me yawn. Yet another Art piece of growing cells to represent climate change or racism or choose your socio-economic oppression adventure.

Maybe the problem is my viewpoint is deluded. I'm not an Artist. I didn't really get into making Art on purpose. I just wanted create something beautiful.

The first real Art piece I created in my adult career was the Chromochord. It's a musical instrument that plays notes based on the quantum mechanical state of a light activated plant protein. I built it from scratch, soldered all the wires, programmed it myself, engineered the proteins and “wrote” music for it. At the time I didn't think of it as an Art piece. I was just trying to bring to life an idea I had. The process of creating working prototypes of my crazy futuristic ideas is intoxicating. It is one of the main motivations of my life, to create things I thought were impossible at one point. To me that is beautiful. But I remember walking around New York with famed Bioartist Oron Catts where he told me that Art needs to have a message or meaning, "If you don't give it one other people will."(that's not a direct quote because it was 6 years ago or something). I've thought about that conversation alot since then. I go back and forth on it but I have come to the conclusion that it's not true. Art can just be beauty for beauty's sake.

Before this show every intricate detail of my Art was well thought out and handcrafted. I finally broke that pattern because this Art piece was so very provocative. Every time I talked to someone about it the conversation went long and philosophical and deep. The piece was titled i love you. It was my fibroblast cells growing in a dildo and a male masturbatory device(a fleshlight). Sounds dum I know.

The idea for this piece started a few months ago when I accidentally cut off my fingertip at work trying to cut cheese and just started culturing the cells from my fingertip. I'm normally not that clumsy but something just comes over me when there is an aged Gouda around. I began thinking about my connection to these cells and how they were "me" but they weren't "me". They contain my DNA and came from my body. They respond to the environment and are autonomous but they aren't conscious by any conventional definition. I feel guilty when I let them die or don't take care of them. I fed them my own blood serum. I have a relationship with this living thing that could be me. That's where it started to get weird. Why do I care more about these cells? How do I express this strange relationship with my not-self self?

For some reason the idea of permission really stuck with me and with physical reality sexual permission is one of the most visceral. What if I put my cells in a dildo and someone used it? What if someone made a cellularized vagina or orifice and had sex with my cellularized dildo? Is someone using these objects infidelity on either side? The feelings it brought up in me were pretty interesting and profound.

The dildo, the fleshlight, they weren't handcrafted. They were inexpensive sex toys I purchased and slightly modified for my use. This is a huge change from the Art I usually create where I try and pour my heart into the creation of the piece. I spend time learning new skills and months crafting the object. The challenge on i love you was me understanding myself and my own feelings. Don't get me wrong, culturing your own cells isn't exactly the easiest but my attachment to the piece wasn't in the crafts(wo)manship. It was how it made me feel. It's the first piece I have created that was meant to make people think and not just experience.

At the Art show it was weird having the piece on display. It did make me feel a bit naked. Some people asked me if they could touch it and I didn't know how to respond. I just kind of shrugged in an "I don't know. Sure?" kind of confusion. It was hard not to feel creeped on when people stared at it. I don't know how people took the piece. I didn't really try and talk to many people about it.

For me though the piece was defining. I consider myself more of an Artist now. My practice and understanding of Art, my own Art, is evolving. I don't want BioArt to be a thing. I want it to just be Art. I think we are still a ways away from that though because the practice is so diluted by people who either aren't skilled in Biology or aren't skilled in Art. Sometimes maybe even both.

You can walk into an Art gallery and look at a painting or sculpture and enjoy it for it's beauty. It doesn't need to be trying to communicate some moral truth about the world. I look forward to the day that BioArt can be the same way. Where a BioArt piece is beauty just for beauty's sake.