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CRISPR Makes it Possible to Edit DNA – Even Your Own

We're all familiar with the archetype of the traditional hacker. Some of us even have firsthand experience trying to block or recover from an attack. While modern hackers still pose serious threats to corporations, individuals and even governments around the globe, hacking isn't inherently bad. A lot of good has come from the efforts of hackers in the past, and, more recently, a biohacker has edited his DNA to – in theory – promote new muscle growth.

As you can see, hacking means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. With technology blurring the lines even further, the field of biohacking is quickly becoming a reality. It also has tremendous appeal to consumers of all kinds. Who hasn't dreamed of altering their physical appearance in one way or another?

Enter Josiah Zayner and CRISPR

Instead of committing to plastic surgery – and all of the risks that go with it – consumers might soon be able to hack into their own DNA. Josiah Zayner, a University of Chicago graduate and former NASA researcher, is currently the first and only person to do so – but he hopes to see widespread availability within a few years.

To edit his DNA, Zayner relied on the CRISPR – Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats – system. Pronounced "crisper" and existing in large part because of crowdfunding, CRISPR is a highly sophisticated tool for editing the genes of living organisms – including humans. Zayner underwent the procedure – which was live-streamed on the Internet – to remove the protein myostatin from an area in his arm.

He described the process on his official blog by saying: ''"How did I do this? CRISPR is some complicated new technology that is really hard! Well, at least that is what the press and media and maybe even some Scientists say. Unfortunately, it's not true. It just took one piece of DNA that contains the Cas9 protein and a guideRNA(gRNA) targeted to the exon 1 of the Myostatin gene and I injected my muscle with it. This DNA then enters some of my cells and both the Cas9 protein and the gRNA would be made by my cells and this molecular complex would target my myostatin gene and cut it. This would lead to Non-Homologous End Joining(NHEJ) and effectively some of the myostatin copies would not work. When myostatin is not working to stop muscle growth, muscles grow."''

CRISPR has many uses outside the development of new muscles. A tremendous amount of research is currently going in to utilizing CRISPR as a rapid diagnostic tool for diseases like cancer and mental illness.

From Science Fiction to Reality

The idea of editing one's own DNA seems like something out of the latest sci-fi film or comic book, but it's already a reality in the 21st century. Thanks to efforts from people such as Josiah Zayner as well as technology like CRISPR, we might all have the option of editing our DNA within the next few years.


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