The former Nasa’s biochemist Josiah Zayner became an online sensation by conducting DIY gene therapy on himself. He explains why he did it.
Josiah Zayner, 36, has recently made headlines by becoming the first ever person to use the revolutionary gene-editing tool in the chase to try changing their own genes. Part way through a talk on genetic engineering, Zayner pulled out a syringe that was apparently containing DNA and some other chemicals that were designed to trigger a genetic change in his cells that were associated with dramatically increased muscle mass. Later, he injected the gene therapy into his left arm, live-streaming the procedure on the internet.
The former biochemist of Nasa that is based in California, has now become a leading figure in the growing “biohacker” movement. That included the huge loose collectives artists, scientists, activists, designers, and engineers that were involved in experimenting biotechnology outside of the conventional institutions and laboratories.
Despite the warnings from the US FDA, that the selling of gene therapy products without getting the regulatory approval is illegal; Josiah Zayner kept moving with selling kits that have allowed anyone to get started with basic genetic engineering techniques and also had published a free guide for others who tried to take the advancement further by experimenting it on themselves.
Was administering a dose of Crispr on yourself is an experiment, or just another stunt to show what amateur scientists/biohackers can do?
Josiah Zayner stated it as both!
He also has stated that- the technical feasibility of what I did is not under question – researchers have done this many times, in all sorts of animals. But there’s a barrier – people are afraid of it, and just talk about the possibilities in humans. I wanted to break that down, to say “Hey look, the tools are inexpensive, and somebody with a bit of knowledge can actually go through with these experiments”.
“I chose to start with the gene for myostatin [a protein that regulates muscle growth], because it has been extensively studied, and it produces an obvious change if it has worked.”
So, how is your arm looking?
When asked about his arm he stated that- on the application of these experiments on animals, we only start seeing the results in four to six months of treatment. He exclaimed that the DNA in some areas of his arms might have changed but I am still putting efforts into it for developing assays [tests] so as to try and detect that. As to whether the actual size of the muscle changes or not; I’m more skeptical.
Changing the way the one gene behaves can have a huge number of knock-on effects on the way other genes are regulated or expressed. Do you really know what you’re doing?
When asked about this he states that It’s a good question. Later he answered- The things are troublesome and moreover, with such things, there are lots of unknowns. “Are those risks insignificant enough that I’m willing to undertake this experiment?” Based on the data I read, for a local injection, the answer was yes. A treatment that blocks myostatin throughout the whole body? That would be much more hazardous – you would be messing with the muscles of your heart.
Later, he was also asked about the questions related to the future associated with the DIY genetic engineering as:
If DIY genetic engineering becomes commonplace, as you hope, what do you think the world will be like in the future?
He answered well about this as well!
He stated that- to me, it’s like Blade Runner, where he goes into that back-alley science lab and there’s the guy making eyes. I imagine people going to someplace like a tattoo parlor, and instead of getting a tattoo they pick out some DNA that makes them muscly or changes the color of their hair or eyes.