If you could change your own DNA, how would you do it?
Well, one person has already officially done it. Meet Josiah Zayner, a biohacker with a Ph.D. in Biophysics, he is the first individual to publicly edit his own DNA as well as publish the process on a live stream. He accomplished this by utilizing a relatively new tool available to genetic engineers, commonly referred to as CRISPR-Cas9 technology in order to “knock out” a target gene [1.b].
By using easily obtained materials valued under 400$, the goal of his demonstration was to show the world that gene editing is no longer a thing of the past. Zayner explains, “Though this experiment was on me. I don't want it to be only about me. I want it to be about how this technology is inexpensive and easy to use. I want to it to be about helping people use this technology to better their lives [1.a]”
In Zayner’s specific experiment, he injected his muscles with a serum made with CRISPR technology that essentially “knocked out” the gene which coded for myostatin, a protein that inhibits muscle growth [2.a]. When myostatin’s inhibitory effects are removed, muscles start to grow . This was achieved by a CRISPR complex formed after the injection which causes missense mutations, a type of mutation that changes the coding sequence, to form in the target gene and render it ineffective [1.a]. This specific modification of the myostatin gene is currently being tested on rats in hopes of treating severe forms of muscle atrophy in humans .
While it doesn’t mean that we should all go out and purchase a CRISPR gene editing kit, it does mean that genetic engineering is becoming increasingly more accessible to the public. It takes groups of people to create scientific change but, with greater access it becomes a lot easier. No longer is genetic research restricted to multi-billion drug development agencies, but also available to individuals and aspiring scientists. Zayner is driving forward a change in mindset that entices individuals (scientists or not) to conduct their own research and ultimately, his CRISPR kits may eventually serve as a cheap and an alternative solution to genetic disorders in the future.
Photo Credits: http://www.ifyoudontknownowyaknow.com/p/about.html
Written by: Kevin Sun
Kevin is currently in his first year of undergraduate studies at Western University and serves as one of UAEM Western's Empowerment and Events representatives.