DIY home CRISPR kits: Does egalitarian science compromise safety?

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Growing up poor on a farm in Indiana, Josiah Zayner often felt like his dreams were out of reach. His family couldn’t afford to support his interest in computers, so he got a job at the local grocery store and saved money to buy his own modem. Being able to cultivate his passion for computers changed his life.

Last fall, Zayner ran a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to supply do-it-yourself CRISPR kits to home hobbyists. Described as a “search and replace” tool for DNA, CRISPR is a precise and versatile gene editing technique that has opened the door for rapid advances in bioengineering. The technology prompted scientists to gather for a global summit to debate its implications in December 2015.

Zayner’s efforts have been controversial. Though his CRISPR kits only provide supplies to perform very basic experiments, experts worry that Zayner’s kits could pave the way for more dangerous applications such as developing new pathogens. Others are concerned that people performing biology experiments at home might not properly observe lab safety protocols.

Zayner, however, is not entirely interested in operating within the already established DIYbio community, which he believes can be hierarchical and exclusive. The expectation that he should have the money and space for a dedicated fridge is classist, he says. “Who gets to determine what is safe?” he asks. “If you’ve been to a biohacker space, you’d know that it’s mostly white, upper-middle class people.”

Read full, original post: Is DIY kitchen CRISPR a class issue?

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