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Guy Says He's the First Person to Attempt Editing His DNA with CRISPR (buzzfeednews.com)
40 points by crypto-jeronimo 37 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 67 comments

"I want to live in a world where people get drunk and instead of giving themselves tattoos, they’re like, ‘I’m drunk, I’m going to CRISPR myself."

Ok, scary thought already. But, casting aside all the safety concerns, how many attributes would someone in general want to change as an adult? You can't change your height, you can't change your hair color, you can't change your eyes. Is a myostatin-inhibitor going to be the "killer app" of DIY Crispr, so we can all look like a Belgian Blue cow?

How about genes involved in the production of dopamine, maybe to help chronic depression. Or neuron growth, wakefullness, testosterone production, etc.

As adults, we're still chemical machines. There are a million knobs to tweak.

Your examples lean towards the "managed by a trained physician", which would make sense. Treat depression, reverse neurodegenerative disorders, sure, a Dr can oversee that and treat that.

I was referring specifically to the DIY crowd, which this articles discusses. Things a Dr would say "no, I'm not going to help you with that". Or as the quote discusses, things a drunk person would say "I think this is a good idea".

Definitely these are not extreme joy riding, but I don't think an ethical doctor would help with highly above normal neuron growth, wakefulness, testosterone, or get involved with experiments starting from near normal levels in a patient. They might have some serious problems with a medical board.

It's a bizarre case that doctors will help normal people (journalists) experiment with some levels of sport doping, but it comes from knowing a little about the experimental professional sport dopers (where doctors try to stay anonymous.)

To give a different example, what about an anorexic that wants their genes to ensure their desired body image, i.e. 0 retention of normal fat? (Personally, I would be more concerned about bulk experiments in the beauty salons than the tattoo parlours.)

If there was one to put my body on a 24 hour sleep/wake schedule I'd be in line.

The article talks about some scientists doing DNA injections meant to stall aging. I could see that becoming popular if it turned out to work.

I could see that being popular even if it didn't work.

LOL - Amazing observational comedy on what people will try despite being proven utterly irresponsible and dangerous.

I don't know about your area, but here in Utah, essential oils and herbal remedies are very popular despite not having any scientific evidence whatsoever.

People buy whatever you tell them to buy, provided you give them an emotional reason to buy it. We just had someone try to sell to us in our home today, and when we told them the price was completely unreasonable, they tried to appeal to emotion (we need this sale to get a bonus, so we're willing to give you an awesome price...).

If you're a good enough salesman, you can sell air, as long as they think there's something different about your air.

Pretty sure there's a Batman Beyond episode with basically this concept. People splicing themselves with animal traits.

So... Bioshock?

What is it about biology that attracts crazy people? As a profession genetic engineer (I've worked on successful engineered CAR-T cell therapy startups, etc.) the most appalling thing about this isn't the hubris or defiance of norms. It's how sloppy and technically laughable all of these preparations and experiments are from a biological point of view - both in terms of what I know about the viral/crispr vector design as well as the biological targets chosen (you're not going to do much by sparsely manipulating myostatin that way as an adult!). This is technical incompetence attempting to masquerade itself as maverick, edgy research for press attention. If you want to be a "biohacker": make a high-penetrance GFP/mCherry tattoo visible to the eye on a patch of your skin that doesn't get rejected by the immune system. i.e. Why take seriously claims about building a supercomputer from people that can't even wire up an 8-bit toy?

The pros are worried about career prospects should they publish something pearl-clutchers deem "unethical."

There certainly at least three grad students who have transformed skin cells w/ eGFP (very very low efficiency w/ Lipofectamine) and one with a cosmetic tumor (later removed after it grew too much)

Regardless of how well this particular case works, I'm in favor of people being able to modify their bodies as they see fit. If he wants to become more muscular, morbidly obese, or ten feet tall, that's his right.

Unfortunately, I could see things like this becoming illegal solely because they help people play sports too well.

>If he wants to become more muscular, morbidly obese, or ten feet tall, that's his right.

Not necessarily. We as a society have come up with many activities which seem, on their surface, to only harm the individual, but are illegal. This shares many concerns with drug use, gambling, etc.

Killing yourself harms others, and society has a vested interest in the population being healthy and productive. If you harm yourself an ER has to treat you regardless of whether or not you can foot the bill. Perhaps most importantly, you can procreate and pass on defective generic material.

This is far from an issue which only concerns the individual in question.

You can purchase tons of things with which you can kill or severely injure yourself today, and you will still receive medical care.

If you can edit your genes in a bizarre way for cheap, I imagine it wouldn't be very expensive to reverse such a modification.

As anyone can attest who has seen a $300 M building burn to the ground, very simple permanent changes can be extremely expensive to reverse.

Buildings do burn to the ground periodically, but the costs of fire men and fire property insurance aren't particularly outlandish.

You addressed zero of the concerns I mentioned. You seem to believe that any problem which occurs will be easily reversible and have no side effects. I can't imagine that would ever be the case. You did not address death (possible) or passing on genetics which have negative, perhaps unforseen consequences.

Alerting the human genome is not as simple as pushing a patch to a website.

Currently it doesn't work at all, and AFAIK only this one guy is trying it. If he gets an infection in an area covered by my insurance, I won't be too stressed about it.

If, in the future it is as easy as a $20 modification, I'd wager two things. One is that most people would use it for mundane things like resistance to the flu, stronger bones, and other things that would ultimately lower the cost of medical insurance on average. The other is that the mechanism will be so well known that changes will be rewritable.

I agree, but there are externalities. Medical care resulting from personal choices should be paid by the risk-taking individual (or the research firm, if it's a sponsored experiment), rather than society or other people in the insurance pool.

I could actually see an argument being made for the government to pay for the bill, if they're allowed to heavily monitor your health, stats, etc.

Imagine all the data we're just throwing away with people biohacking. That data, properly done by 3rd party non-biohackers, could be invaluable long term. Sure, it wouldn't be as valuable as a massive double blind trial (or w/e), but we're basically talking about "mad scientists" doing experiments in their basements.. I imagine lots can still be learned, if we simply watch.

If this becomes cheap enough for a person to effectively do for $20, I imagine the cost of resulting medical care would end up proportionally cheap.

Why do you believe that? The cost of medical care is proportional to the cost of treatment, not the cost incurred while performing the injurious act. I can down a cheap bottle of aspirin and rack up a large medical bill. I don't see the correlation.

For your aspirin example, you can already do that without breaking any laws, and you will still get medical care in pretty much any country. Not that many people do it, and medical costs haven't been ruined by people chugging aspirin.

For instance, if there were a way to make yourself extremely susceptible to becoming obese with $20 on-the-fly gene editing, presumably you (or medical staff) could reverse that. And I can't imagine many people doing the first thing.

All I asked is why you believe the price of altering your genetic material is proportional to fixing any mistakes which arise as a consequence. Legaility has nothing to do with it.

I don't imagine the only issues we'd face are the completely and easily reversible with no side effects kind.

I'd wager that more people would end up relieving conditions with gene editing than doing wackier shit as mentioned before. If you genetically cure a bunch of diseases and unhealthy susceptibilities across the population, the marginal cost of the handful of people who make themselves ten feet tall will be trivial.

>I'd wager that more people would end up relieving conditions with gene editing than doing wackier shit as mentioned before. If you genetically cure a bunch of diseases and unhealthy susceptibilities across the population, the marginal cost of the handful of people who make themselves ten feet tall will be trivial.

Ignoring the fact that you cannot make yourself taller, you're arguing for a completely unregulated ecosystem around gene editing. What you 'wager' is irrelevant; we protected people from themselves in numerous ways because people do dumb things. Are you now arguing that CRISPR and the like should be heavily regulated as to only be used for legitimate medical purposes?

Re:10 foot tall human

Obviously at this point, all we can do is speculate, and I'm not a medical professional. Perhaps there's some gene modification that will cause uncontrolled gigantism, and perhaps a handful of people will want that. If they do, that's their right.


If gene editing works as imagined, you could have a regulated market like doctors and pharmacies for legitimate medical reasons (such as disease resistance) which would definitely lower overall medical costs since it would be a fantastic form of preventative medicine. As such, people not looking for experimental shit would not come across it by accident. Basically treat it like regular medicine.

But if people want to home brew their own stuff and share mechanisms on the internet, or buy and sell "supplements" as they do today with next to no FDA regulation, they should have that right.

As someone who pays taxes to support socialized health care, I am not willing to pay toward the extraordinary chronic medical expenses incurred by someone who has catastrophically injured themselves in an ad-hoc gene editing experiment.

Are you willing to pay medical costs of people who currently might overdose on prescription drugs. When people modify their bodies in spite of the law, would you pay to incarcerate them and/or treat them when they lie to medical professionals to avoid criminal penalties?

Even steroids aren't illegal, you just need to get a doctor to prescribe them.

Sure but "I want to be more muscular" usually won't get you a prescription.

I think the ethics on this wander close to the ethics of personal drug consumption, or at least smoking. Sure, it's his body and he should have personal autonomy, but there's a possibility (maybe high, maybe low, I don't know) that he could end up sick and reliant on others (medical professionals, family). I know its slightly different in the US what with the lack of socialised medicine, but it seems reasonable for society to place some restrictions on this behavior to deter or limit the potential impact on society at large. Personally, I lean more towards permitting experimentation but there's an argument to be made there.

> he could end up sick and reliant on others...

He could also get that way from driving a car, being thrown from a horse, or any number of activities that are a personal choice.

Maybe a bunch of people try this and end up with terrible side effects. Researchers will still be interested in the results if they know what a person did to themself. And then maybe some of them will have good results and then we'll all know. It's a mixed bag and probably a very tiny percent of the population. I say let em go for it.

So do I, but I'm accepting it on the belief that the benefit to liberty is greater than the cost to society and potentially themselves. I don't think amateur injections would provide any meaningful data due to the sample size of 1 plus most likely lower standards of protocol and rigour. But you need a damn good reason to curtail individual liberty.

It's still a big factor in the US. Unpaid hospital bills get factored into prices charged to other patients, and insurance premiums go up as costly treatments increase. Especially since ACA, which legally requires insurance to cover medical care in additional ways. There would have to be an additional law allowing insurers to charge different rates for people who voluntarily wounded themselves or grown obese.

is it not legal to charge fat people more for health insurance? If not, that's ridiculous.

I'm in favor of decriminalizing and/or legalizing most drugs as well. To be honest, if something actually worked to modify one's body as well as this guy is imagining crispr to work for $20, medical costs will likely drop substantially.

> Biohacker

I find this highly concerning, biological organisms are orders of magnitude more complicated than man made hardware and software. I think all he will achieve is either giving himself an infection or cancer.

Yes, highly concerning but not because biological organisms are more complicated, but because biological organisms reproduce. Any "hacking" mistake will reproduce for eternity.

Only changes to the gamete cells (sperm and eggs) will move on to the next generation.

You can change the DNA of specific cells. A change in you skin cell's DNA will not propagate to your bone cells. The skin cell has instructions to make a bone cell, but skin cells do not make use of that part of the code.

”The skin cell has instructions to make a bone cell, but skin cells do not make use of that part of the code.”

The scary thing is that it may require only a small change to change that. Muscle cells also have instructions to make bone and do not make use of that code, except when things go wrong as in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fibrodysplasia_ossificans_prog...

I thought there were 'host' hacks and 'germ-line' hacks.

Could someone with actual knowledge fill this in? Am I right? Or am I very wrong?

Just biohack it back to normal...

I am all for self-experimentation, however, when it exposes risk to humanity, I think we should tread carefully. In the long run, will these genes or other self-experiments be introduced into the global genome with unintended consequences?

The probability of that is basically the same as the probability of an already-existing known deleterious mutation being transmitted into the "global genome". Only if he has children in the future, and not necessarily even then.

Gene changes aren't intrinsically infectious; they're only infectious at all because we tend to modify infectious organisms to carry our changes (e.g., viral gene therapy).

I always dismissed Children of Men as laughably implausible. But with CRISPR it seems like it could happen at least to a portion of the population, given enough generations.

In the long term we should bee able to clean it up again. I'd be more worried about shorter terms

This was over a year ago, I posted it at the time: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16021738

His reasons for doing it seem a bit confused. But one interesting point he makes it that it's not particularly expensive or difficult to brew up some CRISPR. If this guy can do it in his garage, imagine what's going on in secret labs elsewhere.

It likely it didn't do anything if a previous study on this was correct[0]. It showed that possibly 96% of people have a pre-existing immunity to CRISPR-Cas9.

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18334240

The first comment on that page says otherwise. Apparently, there are workarounds.

Thanks! I somehow missed that.

This shouldn't be legal. If people fuck themselves up the worst case isn't just them dying, they can accidently unleash a virus. Pretty unlikely, but just the smallest possibility is still too much when the outcome can be so bad.

It's not unreasonable that tinkering with dna will unleash some dormant retrovirus.

I'm not sure why you're being downvoted. Whether or not you agree with the conclusions, there are very real concerns about the externalities of self gene-editing.

I remember a few years back where a few biologists released a paper on how to weaponize influenza from CRISPR (IIRC). Before it got produced (or after?) the DoD stepped in and had them redact and classify their paper to have it (re-)published.

Does anyone else remember this? Maybe link to the paper, as well?

That seems unlikely to me.

What does seem likely is that they give both themselves and their germ line a genetic mutation. Editing yourself and then having children would be incredibly irresponsible. If you affect your germ cells, you're not just editing yourself, but all of your descendants.

if you can edit yourself to change your genes....can't your children edit themselves to fix whatever you mess up? Or to just revert to normal genes, regardless of what their parents had?

I hope David Cronenberg makes a movie about him.

I don't know anything about gene editing, but is there any chance that doing this could cut loose viruses buried in the human genome?

This is a genuine question! Does anyone know, and if it can't why can't it?

Transmissible CRISPR gene edits are not impossible (Paywall link below). Vectors for these edits probably aren't limited to injection. Which makes me wonder if the obsession over 3D printed firearms ought to share a bit of worryshare with do-it-youself genome editing.


The problem is that neither of these things can truly be prevented without introducing totalitarian state measures.

2017 but also here's a bit of follow up on Josiah:

>So when Zayner saw Ascendance Biomedical’s CEO injecting himself on a live-stream earlier this month, you might say there was an uneasy flicker of recognition.

>Ascendance Bio soon fell apart in almost comical fashion. The company’s own biohackers—who created the treatment but who were not being paid—revolted and the CEO locked himself in a lab. Even before all that, the company had another man inject himself with an untested HIV treatment on Facebook Live. And just days after the pants-less herpes treatment stunt, another biohacker who shared lab space with Ascendance posted a video detailing a self-created gene therapy for lactose intolerance. The stakes in biohacking seem to be getting higher and higher.

>“Honestly, I kind of blame myself,” Zayner told me recently. He’s been in a soul-searching mood; he recently had a kid and the backlash to the CRISPR stunt in October had been getting to him. “There’s no doubt in my mind that somebody is going to end up hurt eventually,” he said.


Self experimentation has a long history within medical science so I don't think it's too alarming.

Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.

This is how that movie starts, where it ends with cancer becoming airborne, contagious, and terminal in hours.

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