By Ellen Arkfeld
Last year, Jennifer Duodna made headlines by developing CRISPR-cas9 technology, a genome-editing technique unprecedented in its precision, ease, and cost. With CRISPR, introducing a new gene to a genome is essentially as easy as mixing chemicals in a vial.
Josiah Zayner has taken this technology to the next level: all of this can be done in the comfort of your own home, and ordered for the reasonable price of $120. He has created a simplified version of CRISPR and is selling DIY editing kits at his online store, The ODIN.
Zayner says that his aim is to “democratize science,” which is currently a “stagnant behemoth out of everyone’s reach.” His time as a research fellow as NASA convinced him that scientific research would be much more productive if tools were available to creative people who lack access to labs. He believes that this type of “do-it-yourself” science will allow citizen scientists to help solve big problems.
However, there are legitimate concerns for giving amateur biologists this type of freedom. For now, the technology is limited to bacteria and yeast, and the risk of doing major harm is minimal. But experts worry that a day may come when unregulated genome editing may lead to something harmful to humans or the environment, like new strains of pathogens. It may be difficult to enforce regulations when people can edit genes in their own homes.
Zayner stresses that for now the more complicated and dangerous editing is restricted to laboratories and requires more knowledge, and that while there will always be bad people doing bad things, the potential to “create something beautiful” outweighs these possible consequences.
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