What could happen when you democratize science -not authorized lab not professional responsibility – and give anyone the ability to edit DNA?
In the past few years, so-called biohackers across the country have taken gene editing into their own hands. As the equipment becomes cheaper and the expertise in gene-editing techniques, mostly CRISPR-Cas9, more widely shared, citizen-scientists are attempting to re-engineer DNA in surprising ways which have objective bioethical, medical and ecological risks.
Biohackers out of control
Until now, the work has amounted to little more than D.I.Y. misfires. A year ago, a biohacker famously injected himself at a conference with modified DNA that he hoped would make him more muscular. It did not.
Earlier this year, at Body Hacking Con in Austin, Tex., a biotech executive injected himself with what he hoped would be a herpes treatment. Verdict: No. His company already had live-streamed a man injecting himself with a home-brewed treatment for H.I.V. His viral load increased.
Already a research team at the University of Alberta has recreated from scratch an extinct relative of smallpox, horsebox, by stitching together fragments of mail-order DNA in just six months for about $100,000 — without a glance from law enforcement officials. The team purchased overlapping DNA fragments from a commercial company. Once the researchers glued the full genome together and introduced it into cells infected by another type of poxvirus, the cells began to produce infectious particles (see more HERE) also this practice is used for enhancing humans abilities (see article NPR, 2 17 2018).
In previous articles, we treat the ecological risk of this practice that could alter the very ecosystem, read HERE.
Scientists warn that powerful DNA editing technologies could have startling unintended consequences. Mutations in DNA are what cause cancer, for example. If this practice continues to be extended without control, a pressing worry is that someone somewhere will voluntarily or involuntarily use the spreading technology to create a devastating bioweapon (Washington Post, 5 14 2018).
Read special report Gene editing biomedical and ecological evaluation