CRISPR genome editing is one of the most significant, world-changing technologies of our era, allowing scientists to make incredibly precise cut n' paste edits to the DNA of living organisms. Now, one synthetic biologist from NASA plans to make it as accessible as a home science kit, so you can bio-hack yeast and bacteria on your kitchen bench.
If you're not up to date with how CRISPR gene editing works, take a quick look at this excellent MIT video. In short, CRISPR/Cas9 is a radically fast and easy way to precisely cut and replace DNA sections in a living organism. It has revolutionised biomedical research and opens up all kinds of opportunities for gene therapy and genetic engineering.
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Dr. Josiah Zayner, a research fellow in NASA's synthetic biology lab, believes that if CRISPR is the key scientific tool of the future, it's the tool amateur scientists should be experimenting with at home, today.
He's been running an online store for a while now called The ODIN, trying to facilitate and encourage do-it-yourself synthetic biology research at home, and he's currently running an Indiegogo campaign to sell full genome engineering kits so that amateur scientists fans can try CRISPR gene editing for themselves.
Zayner says the kits will contain everything a budding scientist needs to carry out CRISPR experiments on yeast or bacteria. For US$130, you can have a crack at re-engineering bacteria so that it can survive on a food it normally wouldn't be able to handle, or for $160, you can get your eukaryote on and edit the ADE2 gene of yeast to give it a red pigment.
CRISPR gene editing works on a variety of organisms, including humans. But Zayner isn't selling kits you can use to give yourself an extra kidney or cure your own baldness, saying "specific changes would need to be made to the DNA in order for it to cross any species barrier."
Zayner's hope is that through interested amateur experimentation, more people will get interested in CRISPR research, rather than having cutting edge science being "the stagnant behemoth out of everyone's reach." Either way, this looks like a pretty cool little tool to explore some way-out technologies.
Zayner describes the kit and the technology behind it in the video below.