Geneticists Worry DIY Gene Editing Could Lead to Homemade Bioweapons

Canadian researchers were able to cheaply create a relative of the smallpox virus.

dna cancer
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Over the past few years, people across the country calling themselves biohackers have taken gene editing into their own hands. They’ve been able to attempt this sci-fi-sounding task because the equipment is becoming cheaper and the expertise in gene-editing techniques is more widely shared, thanks in part to Crispr-Cas9. Up until now, do-it-yourself gene editing has not led to anything of note, but that hasn’t stopped some from taking major health risks to test it out. A year ago, NASA scientist turned biohacker, Josiah Zayner, famously injected himself with modified DNA to make his muscles bigger. Then this year, a biotech executive injected himself with what he hoped would be a herpes treatment. His company also live-streamed a man injecting himself with a home-made treatment for HIV. None of these injections were successful.

Geneticists and others in the gene editing community are now worried that someone will use the rapidly evolving technology to create a bioweapon. A research team at Canada’s University of Alberta recreated from scratch an extinct relative of smallpox, horsepox, by stitching together fragments of the virus’s DNA. They did this in six months for about $100,000.

“I have no doubt that someone is going to get hurt,” Zayner said to The New York Times. “People are trying to one-up each other, and it’s moving faster than any one of us could have ever imagined—it’s almost uncontrollable. It’s scary.”

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