The CRISPR/Cas9 molecular scissors allow us to very easily modify genes. So much so that ready to use “body hacking kits” have become commercialized, allowing us to play the sorcerer’s apprentice with our own DNA.
Technologies capable of “repairing” and “modifying” mankind are far from their last evolution, to the happiness of the transhuman trend – an intellectual movement born in Silicon Valley, for which Man is at the dawn of a new evolutionary step: human enhancement. Among them, amateur “body hackers” DIY their own DNA. Unlike plastic surgery, they do not focus on the outside of the body, but rather on what happens inside the body.
A good example of this is sight. In 2015, an “independent researcher” from the body hacker group Science for the masses tested a device which allowed users to see differently. The researcher injected himself with a chemical to change his eyes’ function, and was able to see in the dark. On his side, Kevin Warwick, Cybernetics Professor at Reading University, implanted electrodes in his body which allowed him to control machines by thought alone.
Some have gone even further. In the United States the CRISPR/Cas9 technique is being used by body hackers, allowing them to “copy and paste” DNA strands. In this way, body hackers can change their eye color or improve their senses. However, little by little, this messing around has allowed these sorcerers’ apprentices to produce veritable “kits” which are ready to use for any who wish to self-modify.
Having big guns thanks to CRISPR/Cas9
Thanks to Cas9 protein and to CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) sequences, profound gene modification is now possible. It is actually possible to cut a DNA strand from a cell in order to: deactivate, change, or correct gene function. This can be used to: fight genetic diseases, tend to cancer, but also to “improve” an individual or even slow aging. The genetic “scissors” that are CRISPR/Cas9 have even allowed Chinese geneticists to modify the genome of viable human embryos, despite ethical concerns from researchers world wide. In 2016, they also allowed a body hacker to modify his DNA in order to increase his muscle mass.
Josiah Zayner, Biophysics Doctor and ancient Synthetic Biology Researcher for NASA (as part of the research team for the Mars mission), has used the CRISPR/Cas9 technique in order to deactivate the Myostatin (growth deficiency which hinders muscle gain) gene in his arm cells. For now, his muscles have not grown as if by magic, but he has already patented the “homemade” DNA concoction which he injected himself with through the course of his experience. He has now commercialized it and promises his future customers a DIY kit for $150 (129 EUR), allowing them to become superhuman.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice Kit
Josiah’s startup, The Odin, has the goal of allowing the greater public to participate in “scientific research” instead of leaving it to laboratories. Zayner also commercializes CRISPR/Cas9 genetic modification kits that use jellyfish genes in order to produce fluorescent beer and more importantly kits that allow you to carry out experiments on the living, like a real bio-geneticist. He guarantees that with his DIY kits, you no longer need to be a scientist in order to change your own DNA.
Each kit contains: vials, tubes, gloves, bacteria, a DNA strand, seaweed extracts, and Culture Media, which allow for the growth of Escherichia coli. Learning to modify bacteria does require a certain scientific knowledge. The Odin covers this area by offering each customer a step by step “guide”, which is as easy to follow as a user manual or a recipe and allows you to cultivate strains, and then modify them via a ready-to-use DNA concoction. In order to get to the second step and to modify your own DNA, the “human Crispr DIY guide” explains that the kit contains a human myostatin plasmid that must not be injected as is, but that it first needs to be purified and replicated using bacterial cultures. This does make the operation complicated enough that the risk of failure cannot be completely eliminated.
Against the crazy promise of allowing everyone to have access to DNA modification thanks to CRISPR/Cas9, scientists have been quick to point out the inherent risks of injecting DNA concoctions like those of Josiah Zayner, such as infections or even “uncontrollable” inflammatory reactions. Other risks are accidentally modifying other genes as well as contracting cancer or genetic diseases – as the CRISPR/Cas9 “scissors” are not 100% precise in their cuts…