“I believe in remembering people for who they were. And Traywick was the used-car salesman of the biohack world,” said the Australian biohacker Meow-Ludo Disco Gamma Meow-Meow. Traywick, Meow-Meow said, was dangerous, but in his death many have softened their stance. “I think a lot of people were like, ‘Now he’s dead let’s just remember him for his mission rather than his actions.’”
Before Traywick, most of the world left biohackers alone to tinker in their garages and basement. Few people even knew the community existed. But Traywick’s actions—grand public performances of DIY science to which he always invited the media—drew attention from press, regulators, and all manner of critics. Shortly after he live streamed on Facebook a live trial of a gene therapy intended to cure HIV, the FDA issued a stern warning to biohackers in America. Undertaking DIY gene therapy, the agency said, is ill-advised and risky, and selling the supplies to do it is blatantly against the law. A few months later, Eleonore Pauwels, a bioethicist at the Wilson Center, wrote in Scientific American that such extreme DIY demonstrations moving out of the shadows was a dangerous trend. Traywick’s death was big news, in part, because he made biohacking big news.
“He got what he wanted,” his mother, Rita Traywick, told me from her Alabama home the day before her son’s funeral. “The notoriety. He made it.”
As much as others may want to discount Traywick as nothing more than a well-spoken showman, Zayner told me, he forced a reckoning in the biohacking world around what should be permissible. For Zayner, more than any other perhaps, that reckoning was extreme. Zayner himself was highly criticized for his own public DIY experiments, though somewhat less than Traywick was. Zayner was once a NASA scientist and holds a Ph.D., while Traywick came from a background in marketing, public relations, and community engagement. But Zayner says Traywick’s antics are the reason he gave up such public demonstrations, and began to advocate for more safety and caution in DIY lab spaces.
“Looking at my actions in the past, which unfortunately did include a public injection in a semi-ridiculous manner, I want to apologize, in that I could have inspired people to think I was doing things on a whim when I was not,” Zayner wrote in a mea culpa of sorts after Traywick’s big stunt.
Zayner told me that while Traywick looked up to scientists of the past who submitted themselves to experimentation, most of those scientists tested their experiments extensively before moving into people. And some of those scientists still died.
Traywick, Zayner said, highlighted the weaknesses of the DIY bio community.
“We need to figure out better ways to do this because you can’t just keep injecting yourself with shit,” he said.
Currently, Zayner’s company, The Odin, which sells DIY bio supplies, is working on creating DIY experiment kits made for use with frogs, so that people can practice science more safely, and not move straight to experimenting on themselves.