When you think of the words “genetic editing,” what do you picture in your mind?
If you’re like me, you probably picture some kind of dark, dystopian laboratory full of all kinds of next-level scary human experimentation. Something like this…
Well, turns out we don’t need to wait for a sprawling, blue-lit space laboratory. We can use what we got right here on Earth — a small, cramped room with a handful of spectators.
The First Ever Human Gene Editing Experiment?
That was the location where Dr. Josiah Zayner used CRISPR to modify his DNA. In a small room in San Francisco with about 30 souls there to witness his “ascension,” Zayner removed Myostatin (a protein that inhibits muscle growth) from his forearm.
What does this mean? Mostly that, in theory, his arm should start getting pretty swole soon.
Dr. Zayner claims that this is the second time he has edited his own genes, and that the process really isn’t as difficult as the media and some scientists claim.
“It just took one piece of DNA that contains the Cas9 protein and a guideRNA(gRNA) targeted to the exon 1 of the Myostatin gene and I injected my muscle with it. This DNA then enters some of my cells and both the Cas9 protein and the gRNA would be made by my cells and this molecular complex would target my myostatin gene and cut it. This would lead to Non-Homologous End Joining(NHEJ) and effectively some of the myostatin copies would not work.
When myostatin is not working to stop muscle growth, muscles grow.”
Uh… Is This Dangerous?
As with most new science, it’s kind of too soon to tell. Though gene editing is pretty much as straightforward as Dr. Zayner says it is.
But the movement Dr. Zayner is arguably leading is controversial. He’s an advocate of citizen science and a self-described biohacker who essentially wants everyone to learn how to “DIY” change their own DNA.
Kind of a scary thought, some scientists warn. With no regulation, oversight, and even the possibility that some private citizens could make a mistake and irreparably damage their genetic code, it’s certainly a risky ambition.
But Dr. Zayner says it’s the future that’s coming, whether we like it or not.
“The point is that we are on the cusp of humanity changing,” he argues. “This is the first of many people who will change their genomes. This will happen for medical reasons, for science, athletics or maybe just because people wanted to or were bored.”
Clinical trials in gene editing have been going on for the better part of a decade, and the FDA is in the process of approving the first gene therapy treatment. Is Dr. Zayner ahead of the curve? Watch his video below and let us know what you think.