New gene editing tools produce citizen scientists



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OAKLAND – In an ordinary house located on a quiet street in Oakland, Josiah Zayner stood on a container of green tree frogs with syringes in her hand.

He carefully injected liquid into the frog's back while the cage was full of crickets singing in the background. In four to five weeks, this little tree frog will almost double.

"I want to take the knowledge that I have and translate it so that I can make people think," said Zayner, whose ears sparkled with various silver earrings.

Since founding his company, The Odin, in 2006, Zayner and his team have tried to give the community education and tools to safely edit genes for organisms. So far, they have sold thousands of gene editing tools and brought in about $ 500,000 in revenue last year. With these inexpensive devices, individuals can practice scientific achievements that have ever been in the laboratory, such as making dark-in-glowing yeast and proper gene mutations in bacteria.

Now, by releasing a new frog kit last November, people can change the anatomy of a frog with a few simple injections right in their own home.

"When we watch movies and when we dream, the thing we want is humans with wings or dragons," Zayner said. "People are more interested in the creative and artistic side of science. And you can't get a grant for those things. "

Zayner is no stranger to the world of gene editing.

After receiving his Ph.D. in molecular biophysics from the University of Chicago, he worked for the NASA Ames Space Synthetic Biology program for two years where he engineered bacteria that could help turn Mars into a planet suitable for human life.

Since 2016, he has invested his time fully in The Odin and became famous for his controversial do-it-yourself CRISPR kit.

But unlike the CRISPR kit, frog kits use the process of editing an unknown gene called liquid formulation to improve biological engineering, or FLEEB.

FLEEB uses a special liquid which is a mixture of fat and protein called insulin-like growth factor, or IGF-1, which is very important in the growth of tissues and muscles in adults. After being injected into a frog, fat allows IGF-1 to slip smoothly through the cell wall. The DNA in IGF-1 then deceives the cell into thinking it is part of the cell's DNA, thereby stimulating cell growth.

But this change is not done in frog children. The cells modified by IGF-1 injections are not the same as the reproductive cells of frogs that make up their sperm or eggs.

Zayner's goal is to promote this type of science in high school classrooms throughout the world.

"We're trying to say, & # 39; Look, your high school doesn't need to do a frog dissection again, & # 39;" he said. By giving students the opportunity to do a direct gene editing project, "they can move to 2019 and do modern scientific experiments."

Biochemist Kate Adamala, who is a guest lecturer at CRISPR online and Zayner's biohacking class, believes that these classes are key to eliminating public fear and misunderstandings surrounding genetic engineering. They can also promote more students to pursue careers in science.

"If we expose more people to the idea that it is not black magic, they might consider entering science," Adamala said. "This can make science education more fun and show people who think that they are not smart enough to enter science as it really is.

But experts on infectious diseases from Stanford University, Dr. David Relman, who heads the International Center for Security and Cooperation, has serious concerns.

Although Relman supports wise and productive involvement in science by the general public, he strongly opposes Zayner's method.

"You can't enter the cockpit and fly an airplane," Relman said. "Likewise, you can't just take a pipette and do science."

Science involves a set of moral and ethical principles, especially when it comes to animal testing. Sharing frog gene therapy kits for anyone to use is clear non-compliance with those principles, Relman said.

"There is a feeling from seeing this work that frogs have been considered to be less meaningful and valuable, and therefore may play with their genomes," he said. "I refused it."

Although editing genes only modifies the non-reproductive cells of frogs, Relman is concerned that this kit is the beginning of a slippery slope.

Zayner ensured that making his frog gene therapy kit involved extensive research and compliance with animal testing laws. However, he understood that selling this tool would cause a lot of anger and concern.

"What I have learned is that time (in selling kits) is sometimes more important than just knowing you can do it," he said.

But despite the reactions of others, Zayner is determined to keep breaking new grounds in the field of gene editing, especially through his online CRISPR tutorial – one of The Odin's most popular items.

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