Editing genetics is becoming more and more mainstream. And using the gene editing tool, CRISPR, biohackers are altering their own DNA.
CRISPR, a cheap and easy technique for making precise changes to DNA, has got researchers around the world racing to trial its use in treating a host of human diseases. But this race is not confined to the lab or to scientists donning the typical white lab coat. Last month, Josiah Zayner, a biochemist who once worked for NASA, became the first person known to have edited his own genes with CRISPR.
Zayner’s experiment was intended to boost his strength by removing the gene for myostatin, which regulates muscle growth. A similar experiment in 2015 showed that this works in beagles whose genomes were edited at the embryo stage. He injected himself with a copy of his own DNA that had been edited using CRISPR to remove the gene.
During a lecture about human genetic engineering that was streamed live on Facebook, Zayner whipped out a vial of edited DNA and a syringe, then injected himself. Now, following in his footsteps, other biohackers are getting ready to take the plunge and tinker with their own genes.
This may seem a little crazy to some, but humans are (and should be) allowed to tattoo, pierce, or modify their bodies surgically to create any type of appearance. Genetic alterations should be no different.
And Zayner wants to help other alter their DNA too. Zayner has made headlines for pushing the boundaries of do-it-yourself genetic experimentation, whether by trying to clean up his gut by inoculating himself with a friend’s fecal matter or brewing glow-in-the-dark beer. This time, the biohacker claims he’s the first person trying to modify his own genome with the groundbreaking gene-editing technology known as CRISPR. And he’s providing the world with the means to do it, too, by posting a “DIY Human CRISPR Guide” online and selling $20 DNA that promotes muscle growth.
Zayner himself admits that his experiments over the last year haven’t visibly changed his body. And experts claim that there are risks. People could infect themselves, or induce an inflammatory reaction. But to Zayner, whether or not the experiment actually works is beside the point.
What he’s trying to demonstrate, Zayner told BuzzFeed News, is that cutting-edge biology tools like CRISPR should be available for people to do as they wish, and not be controlled by academics and pharmaceutical companies.
“I want to live in a world where people get drunk and instead of giving themselves tattoos, they’re like, ‘I’m drunk, I’m going to CRISPR myself,’” said Zayner, who has a few tattoos of his own. “It sounds crazy, but I think that would be a pretty interesting world to live in for sure.” Zayner added: “We should be able to do whatever we want,” he said. “There are a lot of things we do that occur during the normal day that do a lot more damage, probably, than things like CRISPR.”
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