“Are people dying and suffering needlessly because of all these committees and all these rules?” asks Josiah Zayner, a scientist, biohacker, and founder of the biotech company The Odin, which supplies low-cost CRISPR kits for the consumer market. “And what if people just say, ‘F— you, I’m going to do it anyway’? And what if people start getting cured?”
CRISPR is a gene editing system that allows scientists to modify the DNA of organisms ranging from bacteria to plants and fungus to human beings. The Odin sells kits for the modification of bacteria and yeast.
Reason TV visited Zayner in his garage lab to discuss the implications and ethics of bringing CRISPR to the masses, why he left a prestigious job in a NASA laboratory to start his own company, how regulation stifles scientific innovation, and why he believes that unregulated, decentralized experimentation will lead to the some the next great scientific breakthroughs.
Watch the full interview above, or click below for downloadable versions. Approximately 10 minutes. Produced by Zach Weissmueller. Camera by Alexis Garcia. Music by Kai Engel.
What is CRISPR-Cas9?
CRISPR-Cas9 is a genome editing tool that is creating a buzz in the science world. It is faster, cheaper and more accurate than previous techniques of editing DNA and has a wide range of potential applications.
What is CRISPR-Cas9?
- CRISPR-Cas9 is a unique technology that enables geneticists and medical researchers to edit parts of the genome? by removing, adding or altering sections of the DNA? sequence.
- It is currently the simplest, most versatile and precise method of genetic manipulation and is, therefore, causing a buzz in the science world.
How does it work?
- The CRISPR-Cas9 system consists of two key molecules that introduce a change (mutation?) into the DNA. These are:
- an enzyme? called Cas9. This acts as a pair of ‘molecular scissors’ that can cut the two strands of DNA at a specific location in the genome so that bits of DNA can then be added or removed.
- a piece of RNA? Called guide RNA (gRNA). This consists of a small piece of pre-designed RNA sequence (about 20 bases long) located within a longer RNA scaffold. The scaffold part binds to DNA and the pre-designed sequence ‘guides’ Cas9 to the right part of the genome. This makes sure that the Cas9 enzyme cuts at the right point in the genome.
- The guide RNA is designed to find and bind to a specific sequence in the DNA. The guide RNA has RNA bases? that are complementary? to those of the target DNA sequence in the genome. This means that, at least in theory, the guide RNA will only bind to the target sequence and no other regions of the genome.
- The Cas9 follows the guide RNA to the same location in the DNA sequence and makes a cut across both strands of the DNA.
- At this stage the cell? recognizes that the DNA is damaged and tries to repair it.
- Scientists can use the DNA repair machinery to introduce changes to one or more genes? in the genome of a cell of interest.