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Biotech

What If Someone Uses This DIY CRISPR Kit To Make Mutant Bacteria? (vice.com) 115

Josiah Zayner, a research fellow at NASA Ames Research Center, is running an Indiegogo campaign to make DIY gene editing kits that use the CRISPR technique to modify DNA. The campaign has already exceeded its goal, and he points out an article at Motherboard noting the controversy surrounding cheap, DIY genetic modification. Quoting:The kits won't going to allow people to genetically modify humans, but Zayner is still getting some heat for the project. One medical doctor emailed him with "grave concerns" about putting the technology in the hands of lay people. "Reprogramming bacteria or fungi could have serious ramifications, such as inadvertent or intended multi-drug resistance, faster multiplication, toxin production, and persisting potency when aerosolized," the doctor wrote. ... There is no legal framework surrounding this at-home work, unless it results in a product to be distributed, said Todd Kuiken, a senior program associate with the Synthetic Biology Project at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. "Who actually uses kits like these and what they are using them for will determine if any of these products they make would be regulated or not," he said.
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What If Someone Uses This DIY CRISPR Kit To Make Mutant Bacteria?

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  • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Tuesday December 08, 2015 @04:51PM (#51083915) Homepage

    I thought the Andromeda Strain wasn't a documentary.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Did you actually *watch* the movie? Or are you the same guy who posts 'thats how we get skynet' on every AI/robot story?

    • Do you want to get the Andromeda Strain? Because that's how you get the Andromeda Strain.

      • Funny, I heard this same shit about Linux 20 years ago. I guess we should get ready for Big Pharma Zombie Apocalypses? Hay that sounds like a great idea for a movie and a game.
    • by PRMan ( 959735 )
      And those human/scorpion/locust things in Revelation WEREN'T real! They were supposed to be figurative, right?
  • A million monkeys poking at a million CRISPR kits could have some interesting results.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Unlike a million trillion trillion bacteria mutating constantly?

    • by cdrudge ( 68377 )

      The complete works of William Shakespeare written in bacteria DNA?

    • Bullshit. You know how many kids got easy bake ovens?? Chocolate muffin my ass.

    • by DrYak ( 748999 ) on Tuesday December 08, 2015 @06:44PM (#51084867) Homepage

      A million monkeys poking at a million CRISPR kits could have some interesting results.

      Funny like 999'999 dead bacteria colonies,
      And 1 bacteria colony which produces a funny color fluorescent protein ?
      (That monkey got lucky, managed not to screw anything, and started not too ambitious and beyond his own capabilities).

      Hint:
      - producing functionality in DNA (as opposed just random garbage DNA sequences) requires skills and expertise
      - those who have the above skills and expertise already have access to the necessary facilities anyway.

      This kit won't suddenly enable a mad scientist to create their zombie plague.
      It's not targeted at mad scientist. (The mad scientist has all they need in the lab)

      It could be better targeted at high-school students and enthousiats: It would be better suited to help a nice science fair project (glow in the dark bacteria colonies).

      Complaining that a DIY CRISPR Kit will bring a bio-hasard end of the world, is like complaining that cheap Arduinos and Raspberry Pis put into the wrong hands could bring a singularity level evil AI.

      And like the other anonymous has mentionned:
      bacteria do mutate a hell lot in the wild anyway.
      They are way much more likely to acquire antibiotics resistance by swaping genes around and mutating/evolving in a antibiotics rich environment, than by the result of some under-qualified enthusiast poking around.

      • by Bozzio ( 183974 )

        I'd MOD UP if I had the points.

        I came here to say exactly the same thing, but no need as you've already done a better job than I would have.

        Cheers.

    • Teenage Mutant Ninja .. err... Bacteria?

  • Sign Me Up (Score:5, Funny)

    by lazarus ( 2879 ) on Tuesday December 08, 2015 @04:57PM (#51083973) Journal

    I'm planning to use my kit to prolong my life... Oh wait. No. I could use it to FINALLY BE ABLE TO DIE!

    In 1272 I hung myself in a barn. It was 1348 before the damn barn fell down and I was able to walk away. Do you know what it is like to hang in a barn for 70+ years? Not fun. I'm ready for all this new-fangled gene editing technology!

  • Mutant bacteria? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by p0p0 ( 1841106 ) on Tuesday December 08, 2015 @05:02PM (#51084015)
    Isn't all you need for mutant bacteria are mild germophobia and too much hand sanitizer?
  • AND mutant bacteria
  • Though I don't know much about people being hanged in barns in 1272 or Chipotle, I could perhaps answer other questions about the kit
    • Re:Questions? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Josiah Zayner ( 3044297 ) on Tuesday December 08, 2015 @05:09PM (#51084063)
      PS. I am the NASA Scientist.Creator of the kits.
      • Re: Questions? (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I am a Syn Bio researcher. Your DIY kit looks like fun, and kudos for developing it for young students.

        When you take flak from know-nothings, just tell them that it was all already available through Addgene (non-profit) and Life Tech (for-profit). Anyone could have purchased those plasmids and kits ... For expression in humans as well. On second thought, maybe you shouldn't tell them as they will simply flip out ;)

    • im windering more along the lines of what people will be able to do in places like colorado with different plants ;)
      • Genetically Engineering marijuana seems to be an up and coming industry. Isn't Snoop Dogg engineering his own custom strains?
        • he is in deed however thats just normal cross breeding. But I was thinking more along the lines of crossing the benefits to other plants. Think simpsons tommacco episode
  • You need to know what you're doing to do anything successfully dangerous (or dangerously successful) with this.

    On the other hand, any schlub can create children, the world's nastiest petri dishes.
    Alternatively, any schlub can scrape up some black mold or whatever and gradually engineer it to resist chemicals, heat, cold, etc. by simply gradually exposing it to those things at a rate that still lets the colony grow. For bonus points, gradually change its diet to human skin and hair.

    Personally I'm working on

  • by Chelloveck ( 14643 ) on Tuesday December 08, 2015 @05:09PM (#51084071) Homepage

    First, I don't believe anything I read at Indiegogo.

    Second, if this is on the up-and-up... Cat's out of the bag, I guess. If this guy can do it so can any number of other guys, including your favorite bad guys. Quit talking about how to prevent it and start talking about how to cope with it.

    • Seems reasonable. I have also contributed to lots of campaigns that have never actually turned out. DIY Science.Bio, BioHacking whatever you want to call it, is already going strong. CRISPR is not so much different than most of the techniques people have been doing so theoretically it shouldn't be that much more difficult to make it also work outside of lab.
    • Well, it's a prefab kit. Everything difficult (designing the dna templates, PCR, cloning) is already done. So you just mix, plate, and incubate. Not much different than other similar ed kits that have existed for ages. You aren't going to be able to make arbitrary mutations with this. For that you will still need a lab.

  • by guruevi ( 827432 ) <evi.smokingcube@be> on Tuesday December 08, 2015 @05:10PM (#51084077) Homepage

    Anyone with interest is already building or can build something like it. Putting it on Kickstarter only gives those that want to trade time for money access to the same kit they could've gotten otherwise.

    Are you yelling at people selling beakers and bunsenburners?

    • by Qzukk ( 229616 )

      Are you yelling at people selling beakers and bunsenburners?

      Fun fact: In Republican stronghold Texas, you are not allowed to buy certain beakers and flasks without a license [texas.gov]. "Conservatives" at their finest - the freedom to do what they want you to do, because otherwise you might do the wrong thing.

      • There are a few hobbies that have fun into similar things. Orchid growers hit similar problems - the equipment needed for indoor cultivation of tropical plants is exactly the same as that needed for an indoor pot-farm. Growers know this. Police know this. So they will monitor purchases from stores that supply said equipment, and treat any domestic address as suspicious - if you buy some forced-ventilation, grow-light and hydroponics gear for your tropical plants, there's a significant chance that the SWAT t

    • by mysidia ( 191772 )

      Are you yelling at people selling beakers and bunsenburners?

      One step at a time.... our governments are still in the process of trying to get drones (and firearms) made illegal to sell to consumers by requiring FAA registration / Background checks against the secret zero-accountability No-Fly List, which also happens to be a list that may include people for no reason other than they are politically opposed to both parties' views and/or to that list's existence.

  • Non-Problem (Score:5, Insightful)

    by OverlordQ ( 264228 ) on Tuesday December 08, 2015 @05:14PM (#51084117) Journal

    If people were going to weaponize bacteria, they wouldn't have needed to wait until an Indiegogo campaign made a DIY kit.

    • Re:Non-Problem (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Idou ( 572394 ) on Tuesday December 08, 2015 @07:19PM (#51085035) Journal
      I don't think you realize how new and upcoming CRISPR is. . . before we just had a million monkeys. . . now we are about to give those monkeys typewriters. . .
      • Not that new (Score:4, Informative)

        by JBMcB ( 73720 ) on Tuesday December 08, 2015 @11:43PM (#51086269)

        It's been around for about a decade.

        Probably a non-issue for the foreseeable future in any case. Even the people who *really* know what they are doing have a hard time getting the modifications to propagate, much less do anything at all.

        • by Idou ( 572394 )
          So what? LEDs have been around for over a century. People usually measure the "arrival" (aka "newness") of a technology when it starts having the biggest impact to society as a whole. Under that definition, both LEDs and CRISPR are very, very new, and we are only just starting to see their impacts.

          Even the people who *really* know what they are doing . . .

          I guess the "million monkeys with typewriters" was completely lost on you. . . The point is that not only do we have to worry about natural mutations causing a pandemic strain, but now we will have a new type of "

          • by JBMcB ( 73720 )

            So what? LEDs have been around for over a century. People usually measure the "arrival" (aka "newness") of a technology when it starts having the biggest impact to society as a whole. Under that definition, both LEDs and CRISPR are very, very new, and we are only just starting to see their impacts.

            You're missing the point. It's been around a while. Scientists have been using it for a while. It's a known quantity. It's effects are known. It's effectiveness is known. It's not some unknown technology being let loose to the unsuspecting hordes.

            I guess the "million monkeys with typewriters" was completely lost on you. . . The point is that not only do we have to worry about natural mutations causing a pandemic strain, but now we will have a new type of "script kiddie" form of mutation class.

            Think of it th

            • by Idou ( 572394 )

              It's a known quantity.

              Right. . . It [the-scientist.com] is [nature.com] not [nature.com] like [washingtonpost.com] there [eurekalert.org] are [fortune.com] tons [sandiegouniontribune.com] of [phys.org] new [genengnews.com] discoveries [geneticlit...roject.org] every [geneticlit...roject.org] day [slashdot.org], right? Sorry, but your assertion is absurd. Knowing how CRISPR, itself, works in no way reduces the risk when we use it on all the stuff (you know, life on planet Earth) we barely understand.

              How about we perform an experiment. . .you and I both get into fully automated cars. I allow you to randomly change binary bits of my car's programming (much like natural mutation). You allow me to randomly change source code functions

  • Way Over-Hyped (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 08, 2015 @05:16PM (#51084135)

    The ferret research that was redacted a few years back was scarier in all honesty. CRISPR is a powerful tool but synbio isn't easy - even when you know enough to do things it is typically because you have seen and have access to other things you copy from. CRISPR is just a much more reliable copy/paste function (whereas before you might have done the equivalent of copying a block of text and pasting it only to have ever Nth letter randomly swapped for another one, with a value of N very very low.) If someone wanted to make a powerful biological agent it would be far easier to house a bunch of animals in crappy conditions until something vile came from it than it would be to genetically engineer something new. Even if you did create a completely new organism comprised of genetic components of the most horrible things known to man it likely wouldn't do anything - bugs have been evolving alongside animals for a very long time and are every bit as precisely adapted to infecting things as animals are to resisting them. The notion of hacking together something dangerous from scratch or even via biological plagiarism enhanced via CRISPR is absurd. The more advanced synbio people take ridiculously long amounts of time to do things like make glowing yogurt and that is only a single very simple and straightforward copy/paste operation.

    • If I were an evil bioterrorist with mediocre laboratory skills, I'd just start with a really nasty but readily-available bacterium, something already proven highly fit - TB would be good. Then it's a simple matter of slowly increasing the concentrations of every antibiotic I can get my hands on, ideally while incubating in human hosts - plenty of places where it's endemic anyway. It'd be slow, but it should work - and at the end I get Omni-Resistant TB - highly contagious, long incubation time so it won't b

  • It will also make it easier for a rogue individual/nation to wipe us all out. See Frank Herbert's "The White Plague" http://www.amazon.com/White-Pl... [amazon.com]
  • by Anonymous Coward

    As a molecular biologist that has quite a bit of experience in genetic modification of bacteria, cloning, and teaching these methods, I am not concerned. Many students fail to do these types of procedures correctly even when I stay with them and walk them through it. I also seriously doubt that any modified organisms would become a threat unless the person wanted to do that. If the person did want to do that I think they could do it much more easily: find a pathogenic bacteria (like get strep throat) and

  • Anyone than knows much of anything at all about genetic engineering knows that it is incredibly difficult to produce something at all viable, much less that will be a successful super deadly bug using this or any other technology non-experts in good labs are likely to get their hands on. It is really difficult even for said experts in well equipped labs. So less FUD clouding genetic engineering please!

  • We have quite a few graduates of solid colleges with degrees in biology and advanced degrees as well. Quite a few of these folks could brew up a plague bug but it has never become an issue. Perhaps the only people spending time, money and energy to develop biological weapons are in the employment of governments around the world.
  • https://www-users.cs.york.ac.u... [york.ac.uk]
    A good book, might be a bit hard to find nowadays, uh, nevermind found it on Amazon.
    http://www.amazon.com/Fairylan... [amazon.com]

    Basically people hacking genomes to create new drugs to get high on (and other stuffs) been a while since I read it.
  • Either from these public kits or some kid interning at a biomedical lab. Thats when you know DIY is easy.
    P.S. I briefly googled to see if there CRISPR science fair projects in 2015, but didnt find anything.

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