Josiah Zayner is changing the face of biotechnology from his kitchen. Zayner, who graduated from the University of Chicago with a degree in biophysics has been creating DIY gene editing kits for $120 a pop to the general public.
The process of gene-editing was very recently only available to powerful (and rich) biotechnology labs. Then UC Berkeley created the CRISPR gene editing tool, and Josiah Zayner used it as inspiration for his at-home gene editing kits. The kits allow users to cut, paste, and stir genes to create hybrid organisms from the comfort of one’s home.
Understandably, these kits are raising alarms within the biotechnology community. Right now, the kits that Zayner has created are relatively harmless, and are limited in the amount of “damage” that can be done. The kits provide simple yeast and bacteria cells that die quickly and don’t do very much beyond changing smells and color.
But, the availability of the kits as a concept is a source of deep concern. Dr. David Relman of the University of California notes that these kits will allow users to develop a familiarity with gene editing technology. While the kits available now can’t be used to do much harm, there is a very real possibility that one or more of these amateur users may be inspired to do more and (intentionally or unintentionally) create a hugely damaging pathogen and let it free in our environment.
Supporters of the project however argue that these kits allow a larger community of people to potentially create an entirely new world of newer, cheaper medicines and more efficient and clean fuels. That’s the stance that Zayner is taking as well. He has been quoted saying,
“There are so many brilliant and capable people that I want to show how they can do these things,” he said. “They can change the face of the world we live in.”
Zayner want to democratize science. He doesn’t believe that gene-editing requires a genius level IQ; he sees it as a craft that can be developed, and hopes that his project will allow access to those who would otherwise be unable to play with science to get their hands dirty. Zayber believes that the there is a wealth of human knowledge that goes untapped, simply because of a lack of resources & education. He’s ready to change that.
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