The last few decades have seen advances in medicine, and advances in newly discovered diseases. Also advancing is the fear of the "coming epidemics." Countless books on the topic have been written, both non-fiction and fiction (see Meteors, Marx, and Lovecraft on non-fiction/fiction). This is a topic that seems to be in the social consciousness. Perhaps the best way grasp the scale is to look at the fiction (this includes film). In most of these fictional works, a genetically designed virus decimates humanity, or a virus that has been lurking in some hidden location suddenly appears and it steamrolls over the planet. The popularity of this works reveals a macabre interest, and perhaps a growing fear.
For years, the terror of technology held sway over many people. Now the fear of a microorganism seemingly dominates the landscape of imagination. And don't count out bacteria; they are just as lethal, even if overlooked in most fiction works. The two, technology and biology, are often combined to create unstoppable horrors. Such books and films came in many forms: cyborgs from the future; human organ farms; clones; mad scientists with killer petri dishes...
All of the above also described the fiction genre of "biopunk." It has existed for a number of years, and the label never did quite catch-on as did "cyberpunk." In fact, the label is so obscure that I'm not sure it is even fair to label works as biopunk. Either way, we have it, and it does seem to focus on a trend in fiction and in culture. And once the label is understood, that produces more material - for good or for ill.
If you're still wondering what biopunk is, think of most any work that involves biology as a key element, maybe even to the point where the "biology" can be considered a character. It can take the form of genetic engineering, human experimentation (drug testing), or even organ theft. This last one, by the way, is a non-fiction topic as well. It seems that "biopunks" are organ hunters - people who find organ donors or people who "appropriate" organs for transplant. And I'm certain most of us have heard the tales about organ theft. And if not, watch this YouTube video - it does have something to do with the topic, so wait until the end. It is titled, Charlie the Unicorn.
Some fiction works that fall under the category of biopunk are:
There are countless others. I would add William Deitz's Bodyguard series to the list, as they also deal with the same topics. Of course, Horrors Beyond 2: Stories of Strange Creations contains a number of tales that fall under the heading - "strange creations" are sometimes biological.
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Darwin's Radio by Greg Bear
The Reality Dysfunction by Peter F. Hamilton
Holy Fire by Bruce Sterling
Another category of fiction that fits the bill (in some cases) might be Zombie fiction. Usually classified as apocalyptic fiction, zombie films and books sometimes have a bit of bio-hacking in order to bring about the zombies. The computer games and film series Resident Evil, and 28 Days Later come to mind.
Outside of fiction, some of the real world biopunks are those who play with DNA -- hacking the genetic code. This is a bit more sophisticated than traditional hardware or software hacking, often requiring a considerable amount of costly equipment to undertake the venture. This means it is limited to corporations and governments, a connection back to cyberpunk. Plenty of fiction springs from this area as well. And being in both out thoughts and imagination, it seems these works are readily accepted, along with the notion of an unknown, but coming epidemic - or perhaps an apocalypse.
Decades ago, it took quite a bit of background information to propose that a super virus was lurking in the remote regions of the world, or that a vast corporation was brewing up one (see the classic 1949 novel Earth Abides, by George R. Stewart). Today, we simply accept the possibility. This makes biopunk fiction easier to write - and perhaps read (and speaks to our acceptance of the notion). No lengthy setup. A virus has hit and that's that. Likewise, readers seem to respond to the lack of technical data dumps, rather just waiting for the devastating results. Oh, and there is a very early work by Mary Shelly that today would be classified as biopunk.
Oddly, this sub-genre, if it can be called one, has garnered little direct attention, while the fiction within it is quite popular (even excluding the zombie works). Perhaps, if we use fiction as a thermometer for society, the increased number of biopunk books, stories, and films reveals a symptom, or a worry of the readers. Most of the these stories culminate in disaster. Yes, the protagonists survive (sometimes), but the world is often very changed or destroyed. I wonder what that says out us and our fears and dreams?