Public health, gene editing, gene drives, gain-of-function research | Homeland Security Newswire

BiosecurityGrowing concerns about DIY gene editing

Published 23 May 2018

There is a growing concerns regarding the rising popularity of do-it-yourself (DIY) gene editing. From the horsepox de novo synthesis to public stunts at conventions where biohackers injected themselves with HIV treatment, it is becoming difficult to ignore why these actions are dangerous.

It is likely that you have heard about growing concerns regarding the rising popularity of do-it-yourself (DIY) gene editing. From the horsepox de novo synthesis to public stunts at conventions where biohackers injected themselves with HIV treatment, it is becoming difficult to ignore why these actions are dangerous.

Saskia Popescu writes in Pandora Report that the concern regarding the DIY gene editing community is that there are very few restrictions or regulations surrounding what they can or cannot do in a homemade lab. Sure, you cannot go buy Ebola online, but you can start stitching together horsepox, which is pretty scary.

New York Times reporter Emily Baumgaertner writes:

The study’s publication in the journal PLOS One included an in-depth description of the methods used and — most alarming to Gregory D. Koblentz, the director of the biodefense graduate program at George Mason University — a series of new tips and tricks for bypassing roadblocks. “Sure, we’ve known this could be possible,” Dr. Koblentz said. “We also knew North Korea could someday build a thermonuclear weapon, but we’re still horrified when they actually do it.”

Baumgaertner points to several DIY biohackers who show an unsettling willingness to inject themselves with things they have made in their garage labs and that there are fundamentally large gaps in any kind of regulatory system. It is important to remember that the stop-gap measures in place, imperfect as they are, are for academic researchers, and do not pertain to those DIY’ers doing it at home.

Baumgaertner writes:

Authorities in the United States have been hesitant to undertake actions that could squelch innovation or impinge on intellectual property. The laws that cover biotechnology have not been significantly updated in decades, forcing regulators to rely on outdated frameworks to govern new technologies. The cobbled-together regulatory system, with multiple agencies overseeing various types of research, has left gaps that will only widen as the technologies advance. Academic researchers undergo strict scrutiny when they seek federal funding for ‘dual-use research of concern’: experiments that, in theory, could be used for good or ill. But more than half of the nation’s scientific research and development is funded by nongovernmental sources.

Baumgaertner notes that there are those in the DIY community who want to ensure biosecurity/biosafety and are just experimenting, but even biohacker celebrity Josiah Zayner has admitted an accident could happen, which would lead to negative outcomes.

“Whether you’re at home with your mail-order CRISPR kit or you are working on policies to implement regulations on the biotech industry, we can all admit that the potential for nefarious actors or laboratory accidents is one that warrants safety measures and a hardcore cultural evaluation within the DIY biohacking community,” Popescu concludes.

— Read more in Emily Baumgaertner, “As D.I.Y. Gene Editing Gains Popularity, ‘Someone Is Going to Get Hurt’,” New York Times (14 May 2018); Gregory Koblentz, “The synthesis of horsepox virus and the failure of dual-use research oversight,” HSNW, 24 January 2018; and watch the latest BBC Radio5Live with Rhod Sharp, in which Dr. Koblentz discusses genome editing, biodefense, CRISPR, and biosecurity issues.