Gene-Editing Bacteria and Yeast at Home Using CRISPR Kits

DIY bio for the masses



Biologist Josiah Zayner, founder of the Open Discovery Institute (ODIN), is now offering kits via Indiegogo that enables DIY gene-editing of single-celled critters in the comfort of your own home. From the San Jose Mercury News:

On the kitchen table of his cramped apartment, Josiah Zayner is performing the feat that is transforming biology.

In tiny vials, he's cutting, pasting and stirring genes, as simply as mixing a vodka tonic. Next, he slides his new hybrid creations, living in petri dishes, onto a refrigerator shelf next to the vegetables.

And he's packaging and selling his DIY gene-editing technique for $120 so that everyone else can do it, too.

"I want to democratize science," said Zayner, whose left arm is etched with the tattoo "Build Something Beautiful."

It's a prospect that worries those who fear unregulated amateur biologists could unleash new pathogens but delights others who imagine the day when anyone could redesign the living world to create cheap drugs or clean fuels.

Naturally, alarmists are alarmed:

"I do not think that we want an unregulated, non-overseen community of freelance practitioners of this technology," said Stanford University infectious disease expert Dr. David Relman, co-director of the Center for International Security and Cooperation.

Well, tough.

I missed out on the first batch, but I just ordered a kit for editing bacteria. Not available until April, alas. I will let readers know how it works out.

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  1. Be on the alert for Zombie Ron

  2. I’m glad that someone finally penned an op-ed about this
    The “Other Side” Is Not Dumb

    Sharing links that mock a caricature of the Other Side isn’t signaling that we’re somehow more informed. It signals that we’d rather be smug assholes than consider alternative views. It signals that we’d much rather show our friends that we’re like them, than try to understand those who are not.

    1. To be sure, there are hateful, racist, people not worthy of the small amount of electricity it takes just one of your synapses to fire. I’m instead referencing those who actually believe in an opposing viewpoint of a complicated issue, and do so for genuine, considered reasons

      You know, racists.

    2. Is it ok to mock both other sides, or all of them? Only individualists actually treat other individuals as adults in charge of their own lives, and I routinely mock statists, all of them others.

  3. Dr. David Relman, co-director of the Center for International Security and Cooperation.

    I wonder what it feels like to be lodged so firmly up the Establishments ass.

    1. Agreed – although I cringed when I read “I want to DEMOCRATIZE science”

      1. In this case it means empowering the people instead over the gatekeepers, rather than giving over to the whims of the majority.

      2. We’ve been known to say the same things about guns democratizing effective self-defense. Democratize is like liberalize in that it tends to mean virtually anything these days.

  4. Can I edit out all the replication errors in my cells? That would be nice.

    1. I’d be interested in testing this on something relatively simple, like the Huntington’s Disease CAG repeats.

      Any human volunteers? I promise to double-tap if I accidentally unleash the T virus inside your desecrated husk.

  5. This is something about making crispy critters?

  6. Very fertile ground for FYTW legislation.

  7. *gasp* Unregulated! Not – *gasp* – overseen! Somebody fetch Dr. Relman his smelling salts, please.

    I can only assume he would like this technology to remain in the hands of major national governments. You know, like the ones that ran the Tuskegee experiment, bombed the Rainbow Warrior, and lied about major nuclear accidents – you know, trustworthy parties like that, with everybody’s best interests in mind.

    1. Hey, governments protected us from the scourge that is Uber! Surely you wouldn’t want to lose the amount of revenue government gets from taxi medallions?!

  8. I think there may be some legitimate concerns about terrorists getting their hands on this stuff. I mean . . .

    Eh, who am I kidding? I have no idea whether there are legitimate safety concerns, but if it sounds scary, obviously, the government should stop people from doing it, right?

    I mean, we’re talking about about people riding around in the back of driverless Uber cars with GMOs they made themselves!!!

    Wer’re headed for a disaster of biblical proportions. Old Testament. Real wrath-of-God type stuff! Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling! Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes! The dead rising from the grave! Human sacrifice! Dogs and cats living together! Mass hysteria!

    1. Forty years of darkness!

      Sounds like a solution to global warming. Someone fund this!

    2. This could legitimately help terrorists in the same way that MS word could legitimately help terrorists produce propaganda faster and with fewer typos.

      They would still need an expert to design their evil organism. He (or they) would just be able to do it faster and cheaper with the new tech.

      I read about a soviet bio-weapon a while back that was immensely terrifying. They added a protein to a bacteria designed to cause an auto-immune reaction. By adding a protein from the myelin sheath, they basically were able to induce muscular dystrophy in infected people. Holy crap, is that nasty.

      That story has been out and the tech to replicate it available for decades. Yet no horrible MS causing bug has been deployed by terrorists. I don’t think they are really thinking in terms of maximizing damage or terror. If that was the objective, they’d be targeting our water supply and power supply and perhaps transportation. Similarly, I don’t think their heads are in the “maximize death and suffering” space of bioweapons.

      1. Pretty sure that would actually induce multiple sclerosis.

  9. I’ve always thought that if there was a zombiepocalypse, it would come from some kid in the basement. My only question is, can I be Daryl?

    1. John Ringo agrees.

    2. I’m thinking more likely White Plague. Sorry, ladies.

      1. Indeed. Better find a defensible all-girls school now.

    3. You can be Eugene

      1. “I also lied about T. Brooks Ellis liking my hair. I do not know T. Brooks Ellis. But I did read one of his books, and he seemed like the type of guy who wouldn’t blink twice at a Tennessee top hat.”

    4. If there’s a zombie apocalypse, it will come from government research, probably some entity that enjoys effective immunity from lawsuits for negligence.

      Biological warfare division, Department of Health, something like that.

      The cure will might come from some kid in a basement, but it’ll probably come from one of those entrepreneurial biotech companies in Biotech Beach.

  10. Finally, life hacks that don’t involve shit like turning a Chinese to go cup into a “plate.”

  11. See now this is what the libertarian moment consists of, individuals doing things without government permission. Not that political stuff, which is basically salivating at being able to supinely consent to government legitimacy.

    1. Make politics obsolete while fighting a regard political battle until it’s obsolete.

  12. I am all for continued biological research and go out of my way to buy GMO baby food, but this polyannaish notion that all bio “research” is good is, um, pollyannaish. There is a huge difference when one is talking about a technology that is potentially self-replicating. Ron worries about AI run amok-something we can, you know, turn off, but is fine with something that we potentially(likely?) can’t. Hell just look at our track record with cane toads and africamized bees. I’ll take my bio research with some safeguards and not on a kitchen table please.

    Would Ron be comfortable with home smallpox kits or home anthrax kits?

  13. I await Ron’s report on his kitchen table experiments, sporting the headline “Hell bugs ate my face!”

  14. Having spent years in the lab manipulating and sequencing genes, I have two observations:

    1. This new technology is amazing and will have a huge impact on research in biology, as well as GMO stuff.

    2. Everything that is done in bio-tech can be reduced to “In tiny vials, he’s cutting, pasting and stirring genes, as simply as mixing a vodka tonic.”

    Back in the ancient days of the first PCR amplifications it was cutting edge tech and it required high-level education to understand and implement. But at the most basic level you just mix this in a vial, add some of this, put it in an incubator for 20 minutes, etc. Pretty soon they had kits and automated heating/cooling blocks to run the process.

    In that respect this tech is no different. The difficult bit of making your Frankenstein yeast is making your insert, verifying that it got transferred and checking function. If you just want to stick a glow-in-the-dark gene into a bug using pre-made constructs, any idiot can do it with no training. But that was true last year too. And 20 years ago if anyone had cared to make a kit to do it.

    The real magic is the speed and precision with which researchers can make changes. Instead of taking a year and a thousand tries to get a good transgenic organism to test out your gene, you’ll get it in a week for a fraction of the cost. Which means you can do experiments that you never would have dreamed to do before.

    1. Your last paragraph really nails it. Before Crispr gene-editing was cumbersome. The old technologies are still relevant but they orbit around Crispr which makes everything so much easier.

  15. Look, this little experiment has caught the eye of big daddy government and will be banned for ownership by individuals. Talk about it now, because it’s going to be banned.

    1. Everything that is good is banned. For example; Iberico ham, Absinthe with wormwood, bazookas, tanks, sex work, pot, underage drinking, etc.

      Banning shit just makes it more appealing.

  16. Give me this kit and a MakerBot and I could create my own universe …


    /menacingly rubbing palms together

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