Biohacker regrets own biohacking: CRISPR done wrong?

Aaron Traywick, 28, could well claim to be the world’s most notorious ‘biohacker’, that is, a do-it-yourself biologist, looking for new ways to do things with biology using techniques such as CRISPR, after injecting himself onstage with an untested herpes cure. But now another prominent figure in the biohacking community, Josiah Zayner, has spoken out against the movement and its dangers. 

Traywick’s stunt wasn’t the first time he and his company, Ascendance Biomedical, had drawn attention to themselves in this manner. Last November the company oversaw the live-streaming of a novel HIV treatment being administered on a computer programmer, Tristan Roberts.

In an interview on the ordeal, Roberts told the BBC:

“We may be risk takers but we’re not stupid.”

Further adding: “I think we’re heading towards a part of time where patients and test subjects are able to have a greater stake in the outcome of the experiment.”

The biohacking community draws upon the expertise of conventional scientists. Using its knowledge from existing biological and medical science. It does so however far outside the confines of existing regulatory structures, with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the body responsible for protecting and promoting public health in the United states, warning against the self-administration of gene therapy.

A number of biohackers are turning to CRISPR, a technique that can be used to edit specific strands of DNA, for unique therapies, and are using themselves as its testbed.

Josiah Zayner was one of its proponents. He holds a Ph.D. in biochemistry and biophysics and is a former synthetic biology research scientist at NASA. But is perhaps most known for being one of the first people to publicly edit his own DNA when he injected himself with DNA that would apparently promote muscle growth – with much skepticism.

Yet, Zayner’s initial enthusiasm seems to have turned into regret. He recently told The Atlantic:

“What it’s turned into now, people view it as a way to get press and get publicity and get famous. And people are going to get hurt. There’s no doubt in my mind that somebody is going to end up hurt eventually. Everybody is trying to one-up each other more and more.”

One would imagine this movement isn’t going to go away anytime soon. Especially when such ideas, and the science behind it, diffuse further into society. But if you’re planning on any form of self improvement, it may be best to start elsewhere first.

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