They’re My Genes, and I’ll Edit Them If I Want To

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Back in October, biohacker Josiah Zayner uploaded a video on YouTube showing him tampering with his own DNA. Before you think he’s a nutcase, Zayner has a PhD in molecular biophysics from the University of Chicago. He intentionally chose a seditious way to become the first person to modify his own genome with the groundbreaking gene-editing tool CRISPR.

Josiah Zayner

Photo © Josiah Zayner

Zayner wants to push the limits of science, and he believes everyone has a right to modify themselves as they choose.

He edited some of his own DNA to remove the protein myostatin, which inhibits muscle growth, and then injected the DNA into his forearm.

“The point is that we are on the cusp of humanity changing,” Zayner writes. “This is the first time in the history of the earth that humans are no longer slaves to the genetics they are born with.”

Zayner has started a new company, The Odin, with genetic engineering kits starting at $29, so others can replicate his work. But Zayner’s website stresses, “They are only for use with microorganisms right now.”

But will this warning stop people from editing their own genome?

David Ishee is another biohacker, who plans to mimic Zayner’s approach. He too believes, “It is important that people have the ability to choose what kind of gene expression they want for themselves.”

But editing your DNA isn’t as simple as following a checklist. Scientists warn about safety risks, from infection to possibly causing cancer. Besides, injecting yourself with a gene for muscle growth won’t in fact pump up your arms. Even Zayner admits that his experiments over the last year haven’t visibly changed his body.

After years of predictions, gene editing is finally becoming a reality. The issues are complex, pitting human freedom against the risk of corrupting the DNA of future generations. Who should make these choices and oversee them?

One thing is clear. Zayner is motivated not by a recognition that he was “fearfully and wonderfully made” by a loving Creator but by a desire to take matters into his own hands. He is playing God, and at the same time, putting others at risk. That rebellious attitude sounds frighteningly like what drove Adam’s choices in the Garden of Eden.

Kit

Photo © Josiah Zayner

Biohacker Josiah Zayner sells this DIY CRISPR Genome Engineering Kit for modifying bacteria on his company’s website for $159.

Answers Magazine

March–April 2018

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