He’s Playing God with Human Genes – It’s ‘Cool’

‘Biohackers’ edit humans in search of genetic revolution

(CBS News) At MIT in Cambridge, Mass., a couple hundred academics, scientists and biohackers gathered recently for what organizers call the first global biohacker summit.

‘You target somebody’s genes and make whatever change you want.’ Self-described biohacker Josiah Zayner PHOTO: Matt Biddulph, CC

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Biohackers is a term for biologists who work outside of traditional labs.

Josiah Zayner, a former NASA scientist turned biohacker, stumbles into the event late, and a bit out of sorts. He’s treated like a bit of a rockstar, lauded by the biohackers in attendance.

But Josiah’s not having it. “People trying to appropriate the biohacker movement. It’s gross. I feel gross being here.”

He wants the movement to remain in the hands of the people — away from the influence of the scientific establishment.

“I don’t need validation (from MIT). It’s like, the science should make it legitimized right? The cool stuff people do should make it legitimized.”

Josiah lives and works in Oakland, California, where he’s converted a house into a scientific lab.

Here, he runs a company that sells genetic engineering kits to the public. In the U.S., gene editing is technically not illegal, but federal funding is either prohibited or extremely difficult to obtain.

“What we are trying to do is make genetic engineering technology accessible to people. We want people to be able to use genetic engineering technology as easily as they could use an app on their smartphone.”

‘You target somebody’s genes and make whatever change you want’

Josiah’s kits start at about $150, depending on the cell cultures and organisms included for experimentation.

The business, and the biohacker movement it helps service, came to exist, largely because of one new tool, called CRISPR.

CRISPR is short for Clustered Regularly Interspersed Short Palindromic Repeats.

“CRISPR is this amazing technology because CRISPR allows you to directly target any sequence in somebody’s genome, in their genes, that you want and make whatever change you want,” according to Josiah. READ THE FULL STORY AT CBS NEWS. Also of interest: Gene Editing: Inching Closer to Designer Babies?