There’s a new bunch of kids on the block. They are called biohackers and they’re changing the world. One of them has just edited his own DNA.
Biohacking can be defined as citizen or do-it-your-self biology. It takes place in small labs, garages and biohacker-spaces and it could involve anything from modifying yeast for beer, figuring out how the DNA in plants affects their growth, or how to manipulate genes from another source to make a plant glow in the dark.
Or how to repopulate your entire microbiome…
It is citizen experimenting on the cheap and like that done in fancy university laboratories, often involves DNA and genes.
The results are mindblowing.
The first person known to have edited his own DNA
Dr. Josiah Zayner, a scientist, biohacker, and founder of the biotech company, The Odin, is a member of this futuristic group and the first person known to have edited his own DNA.
The Odin is an online biohacking supply store that sells kits and tools that allow anyone to make unique and usable organisms at home or in a lab or anywhere. Dr. Zayner, who obtained his Ph.D from the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics at the University of Chicago in 2013 wants to bring CRISPR to the masses.
CRISPR is a gene editing system that allows scientists to modify the DNA of organisms ranging from bacteria to plants and fungus to human beings. The Odin sells kits for the modification of bacteria and yeast.
CRISPR is your doorway to a new, modified you.
Single-molecule movie of DNA search and cleavage by CRISPR-Cas9. pic.twitter.com/3NQxmbvzJF
— hnisimasu (@hnisimasu) November 10, 2017
Why suffer from an unwanted genetic condition, if you can use CRISPR to get rid of it?
Zayner, who left a prestigious job in a NASA laboratory to start his own company, is prepared to put his money where his mouth is: he has demonstrated the process of editing his DNA via live video on his website. Zayner claims this was the second time he has genetically modified himself.
“Using CRISPR he removed the protein Myostatin from an area in his forearm. Myostatin inhibits muscle growth so he should, at least in theory, notice an increase in muscle mass in this area after the experiment,” reports IFL Science.
“The process involved just one piece of DNA that contains a protein (Cas9) and a guide RNA (gRNA), which essentially tells the protein where to go. When the modified DNA was injected into his forearm, the protein and gRNA targeted and then deleted the myostatin gene.
“Whether he’ll be gifted with superhuman strength, we’ll have to wait and see but, as he says on his blog, that was never the point of the experiment.”
On the video Zayner explains that CRISPR doesn’t edit the genome; it damages the genome. It cuts your genome and that’s it. It doesn’t change or modify anything. But afterwards the cells’ machinery repairs those cuts and that’s when you can trick the cell to modify the genome in certain ways.
CRISPR is the simplest way to destroy your gnome that we know of so far, says Zayner.
A really gross genetic modification
This is not the first time that Zayner genetically modified himself.
In an interview with Reason TV he went into detail about a host of gastrointestinal problems that he had suffered from in the past and had decided to tackle genetically.
Zayner did a full body microbiome transplant. Microbiome is the bacteria all over your body in your gut, on your skin, in your nose and, mouth, he explains.
“I found a healthy donor, I took poop samples, skin samples, basically sterilized myself with antibiotics and transplanted this microbiome to my body and afterwards a lot of the problems I had cleared up.”
This is certainly novel and something not many people would be keen to try.
Zayner is an ardent proponent of citizen science and his goal is to democratize science and provide everyone with the tools to do-it-yourself biology and genetic engineering. Some experts have warned that this could lead to activities that lack the oversight of traditional scientific institutions.
You are selling Pandora’s boxes, the Reason TV journalist tells Zayner, and that could be dangerous. What do you say to people who have this concern?
Zayner’s response: “I ask the person if they know what DNA is, if they say no, the conversation ends there. The reality is it’s so hard to engineer something to be dangerous. These kits don’t allow people to engineer something like viruses or something.”
What can we expect of the members of this brave new movement in the next five years or so?
“They are going to blow our minds. Let’s give people the knowledge and let them change the world, says Zayner.”
NOW WATCH: A fascinating in-depth look at biohacking.