Mail-order DNA, DIY gene tinkering: looming catastrophe?
Published: June 7, 2018
Category: Extreme Genetic Engineering, The Organic & Non-GMO Report Newsletter
Gene editing technology has become accessible to biohackers of all ages and stripes—sending ripples of alarm through academic and non-scientific circles alike.
“To unleash something deadly… could really happen any day now,” said Dr. George Church, leading synthetic biologist.
Using tools like Crispr-Cas9, hackers “glue” DNA fragments (easily purchased on Science Exchange, a Craigslist for DNA) with surprising results. Eighteen-year-old Keoni Gandall, a Stanford research fellow, made full genomes at home several years ago. He admits that regulations for DNA synthesis aren’t strong enough.
In six months, with $100,000, University of Alberta scientists recreated a virus related to smallpox; PLOS One published the instructions. Biodefense expert Dr. Gregory Koblentz noted, “We … knew North Korea could someday build a thermonuclear weapon, but we’re still horrified when they actually do it.” Canadian government officials didn’t bat an eye at the project.
Corporate or non-governmental gene experiments aren’t monitored by U.S. officials. A “Biohacker Boot Camp” lab in Brooklyn, Genspace, alerted the FBI about its activities to avoid suspicion as bioterrorists. Genetic self-experimenter and former NASA scientist Josiah Zayner says people are going to get hurt playing with genes, as it’s “moving faster than any of us could have ever imagined.”
Lawrence O. Gostin, a WHO adviser on pandemic influenza, noted that only a nuclear or biological weapon could decimate millions of people quickly. “Somehow, the U.S. government fears and prepares for the former, but not remotely for the latter. It baffles me.”
Source: New York Times
To view full article, visit: www.nytimes.com/2018/05/14/science/biohackers-gene-editing-virus.html