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A Biohacker Regrets Publicly Injecting Himself With CRISPR (theatlantic.com) 131

Sarah Zhang, reporting for The Atlantic: When Josiah Zayner watched a biotech CEO drop his pants at a biohacking conference and inject himself with an untested herpes treatment, he realized things had gone off the rails. Zayner is no stranger to stunts in biohacking -- loosely defined as experiments, often on the self, that take place outside of traditional lab spaces. You might say he invented their latest incarnation: He's sterilized his body to "transplant" his entire microbiome in front of a reporter. He's squabbled with the FDA about selling a kit to make glow-in-the-dark beer. He's extensively documented attempts to genetically engineer the color of his skin. And most notoriously, he injected his arm with DNA encoding for CRISPR that could theoretically enhance his muscles -- in between taking swigs of Scotch at a live-streamed event during an October conference. (Experts say -- and even Zayner himself in the live-stream conceded -- it's unlikely to work.) So when Zayner saw Ascendance Biomedical's CEO injecting himself on a live-stream earlier this month, you might say there was an uneasy flicker of recognition.

Ascendance Bio soon fell apart in almost comical fashion. The company's own biohackers -- who created the treatment but who were not being paid -- revolted and the CEO locked himself in a lab. Even before all that, the company had another man inject himself with an untested HIV treatment on Facebook Live. And just days after the pants-less herpes treatment stunt, another biohacker who shared lab space with Ascendance posted a video detailing a self-created gene therapy for lactose intolerance. The stakes in biohacking seem to be getting higher and higher. "Honestly, I kind of blame myself," Zayner told me recently. He's been in a soul-searching mood; he recently had a kid and the backlash to the CRISPR stunt in October had been getting to him. "There's no doubt in my mind that somebody is going to end up hurt eventually," he said.

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A Biohacker Regrets Publicly Injecting Himself With CRISPR

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 22, 2018 @10:04AM (#56169127)

    That's how evil super villains are created and super heros.

    We were close to have Herpes-Man running around!!!

    • by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Thursday February 22, 2018 @11:09AM (#56169397)

      We were close to have Herpes-Man running around!!!

      As I understand things, there are quite a lot of them running around already.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Imagine if Herpes-man's super-power was to eliminate herpes in anybody that they swap bodily fluids with... talk about popular!

        • by Cederic ( 9623 )

          You're so very very close..

          I did really upset a woman once because she had herpes. I didn't even say, "Get away from me you disease ridden hag", I just said, "This isn't going to work out."

    • That's how evil super villains are created and super heros.

      We were close to have Herpes-Man running around!!!

      This is almost the plot of "Future Man" on Hulu.

    • Herpes Man!!! Wielding the power of ostracism at will!!!
  • by ArhcAngel ( 247594 ) on Thursday February 22, 2018 @10:05AM (#56169129)
    The Tide CRISPR challenge!
  • Splicers! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Narcocide ( 102829 ) on Thursday February 22, 2018 @10:10AM (#56169151) Homepage

    Anyone who has played Bioshock already knows how this all ends.

  • Hypocrisy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Pinky's Brain ( 1158667 ) on Thursday February 22, 2018 @10:12AM (#56169161)

    When he does it it's because he's a "social activist", when others do it it's because "to get press and get publicity and get famous".

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      "hypocrite" is basically a synonym for "social activist".

    • Re:Hypocrisy (Score:4, Insightful)

      by fedos ( 150319 ) <{allen.bouchard} {at} {gmail.com}> on Thursday February 22, 2018 @02:34PM (#56170489) Homepage
      This isn't hypocrisy. This is a change of opinion.
    • Re:Hypocrisy (Score:5, Insightful)

      by pots ( 5047349 ) on Thursday February 22, 2018 @02:38PM (#56170509)
      This is very important: changing your mind is not hypocrisy. There is absolutely nothing wrong with acknowledging a mistake, it is not weak or shameful.

      It is so important that people stop thinking this way.
      • He didn't change his mind, he supposedly felt sorry for setting off the trend ... but he assigned entirely different motivations to himself than he did to others.

  • Saline solution (Score:5, Interesting)

    by martindp ( 540152 ) on Thursday February 22, 2018 @10:27AM (#56169205) Homepage
    Where is the proof that the canister contained any active ingredients? My bet would be that the Ceo knew that it was only a saline solution and he injected him self to get some media attention.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 22, 2018 @10:29AM (#56169211)

    Suddenly that flat-earther rocket dude doesn't like quite as foolish anymore.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Yes he does.
  • by prasadsurve ( 665770 ) on Thursday February 22, 2018 @10:35AM (#56169227)
    If these Biohackers are successful, we will hail them as risk takers and pioneers. Nobel Prizes Winners who experimented on themselves [telegraph.co.uk]
  • People injecting untested bio-treatments as publicity, the Prez suggesting that the answer to school gun violence is to arm all teachers, political think tanks suggesting that we can safely ignore global warming...

    Is there a strain of the flu going around that reduces emotional maturity to that of an 8-year-old?

    I don't think the social landscape reflects right vs. left, I think it reflects the lowest common denominator; what is the base level of maturity that most people seem willing to embrace? Is it just

    • by jedidiah ( 1196 )

      > Is there a strain of the flu going around that reduces emotional maturity to that of an 8-year-old?

      Perhaps you thought blind faith in science wouldn't lead to something like this? You're probably part of the cabal that thinks we can treat the guys in white lab coats the same as people that wear the same color robes in the clergy.

      Why is this unlike having blind trust in the pro-corporate GMO narrative or the global warming narrative?

      At least he eats his own dog food.

      • At least he eats his own dog food.

        Does he, though? For all we know there was just saline solution in the thing he injected himself with. Dropping trow in front of an audience and injecting as a publicity stunt? A bit different than Barry Marshall [wikipedia.org].

        It is no different than companies that do science via press release. No releasing of findings, just a press release that says "we discovered something that turns physics on its head!" And then a bunch of years and millions of research dollars later, nothing [wikipedia.org].

      • > Is there a strain of the flu going around that reduces emotional maturity to that of an 8-year-old?

        Perhaps you thought blind faith in science wouldn't lead to something like this?

        Better than blind faith in blind faith to cure/prevent the flu, as recommended by Evangelical Trump adviser tells people to skip flu shots in favor of prayer [theguardian.com]:

        A Texas evangelist preacher and member of Donald Trump’s faith advisory council told parishioners to skip the flu shot in favor of prayer, inviting scorn from concerned medical professionals and epidemiologists.

        “Jesus himself gave us the flu shot,” Gloria Copeland said in a video posted last Wednesday that has slowly begun to go viral, no pun intended, after some observers highlighted Copeland’s ties to Trump.

        “Just keep saying that ‘I’ll never have the flu. I’ll never have the flu,’” she continued. “Inoculate yourself with the word of God. Flu, I bind you off the people in the name of Jesus. Jesus himself gave us the flu shot. He redeemed us from the curse of flu.”

        On the other hand, perhaps they'll all be Darwin Award [darwinawards.com] winners.

      • It appears that some people are going to have blind faith in something. They apparently need it. Given that, blind faith in science is a lot more innocuous than blind faith in a politician or a religion.

        I actually do tend to treat scientists the same as the clergy I know, but then I don't have blind faith in either of them. (My religion has no clergy, and certainly doesn't need any until there are at least two of us.) I find religion and science to be fascinating, so I ask questions. For purposes of

    • Only the most childish would think that adding armed people in an environment where only criminals are allowed to have guns is a bad idea.

      • Criminals are not allowed to have guns.

      • In other words, you're saying that prison guards should keep their handguns when entering a prisoner area? Or is it that, if there are already criminals with guns somewhere, we should add more criminals with guns? Or am I misinterpreting it, and you mean that adding criminals to an environment is a good idea, since they're the only ones allowed to carry guns there (although I can't think of anywhere where criminals are allowed to carry guns and others aren't), and hence adding armed people is adding crim

    • What is wrong with arming teachers? You trust them to indoctrinate your little hellspawn with whatever the narrative of the week is, but not to actually protect them from harm? DaFuq?

      Personally I'd trust any of my former teachers with a gun a hell of a lot quicker than I'd trust the cops, after all I haven't seen any teachers running around shooting unarmed citizens because some douche lost at CS:GO and made a prank call or in the case of Columbine actually shooting the hostages...have you?

      • by Quirkz ( 1206400 )

        Maybe you don't see teachers shooting people because they don't carry guns as part of their jobs?

      • by mspohr ( 589790 )

        I'd rather trust a cop who has supposedly trained in how to use a gun than my Latin teacher who was generally clueless and most likely to shoot himself or some random innocent.

        • That's OK, one of the other teachers would mistake him for an intruder and shoot him. With a bit of luck the second teacher will only plug two or three kids before he hits what he was trying to aim at.

          Half a dozen tops, not too bad. Then you find out there was no shooter, he saw an oboe player and heard a car backfiring.

          • by mspohr ( 589790 )

            Just wait until the SWAT team show up and starts shooting anyone carrying a gun.
            You're going to have some additional casualties.

        • I saw teachers at the shooting range when I was in school. Hunter safety courses where taught by our family physician (an army veteran).

          I live in the mid-west in a small community near a military base with a lot of farmers and retired military guns are very common but shootings and gun accidents are not.

          • by mspohr ( 589790 )

            Shows the value of training. I think you should be required to have a license with mandatory training and buy insurance just like a car. That would cut down on stupid gun accidents.

            • I figured that the easiest and most reliable way to secure a gun from accidents when I had kids was to not have one at least until after they where old enough and had completed a gun safety course. I don't currently own a gun but will again eventually.

      • You must have had nice teachers.

      • Actually, I trust them to teach better when they aren't required to be prepared to shoot people, including students, at a moment's notice. (If they aren't, then their guns aren't going to do much good.)

    • I think you're thinking of regular old maturity, and not emotional maturity.

    • It's the long term effects of low-grade environmental lead poisoning in effect. Despite mostly banning it in fuel it is still present in potentially harmful quantities (the updated information from the surgeon general's office now says there is NO SAFE AMOUNT of lead for children) throughout the environment even in places where they aren't still using lead pipes. Yes, hard to believe, but in many places in the continental U.S. they're still using lead pipes, legally.

  • This is evolution in action. Survival of the fittest genetic engineers. Those too stupid to play with the technology will find a way to get a Darwin award. But will any of them concoct something so stupid it will win the award for our entire species, rather than just them personally?
    • But will any of them concoct something so stupid it will win the award for our entire species, rather than just them personally?

      I doubt it, we're incredibly complex and you would need to specifically engineer it to have some mechanism of transmission (practically a whole new branch of a life cycle) - even if you managed to do that viruses mutate a lot, bacteria are easy to kill, and even if your objective were specifically to make it impact everyone you'd fail. It might be possible to make some kind of new STD or flu, but even then your total infected is going to be quite low (even if Madagascar doesn't close their borders.)

  • by magusxxx ( 751600 ) <magusxxx_2000@[ ]oo.com ['yah' in gap]> on Thursday February 22, 2018 @10:47AM (#56169283)

    "What would you do for a Klondike Bar?"

  • by adosch ( 1397357 ) on Thursday February 22, 2018 @10:56AM (#56169333)

    I'll be the first to day, I guess I'm not in these kinds of news cycles to know that bio-hacking was an actual thing taken seriously. This is just oozing epic levels glory-stunt bullshit. I honestly don't see this as any different than the Philadelphia Eagles fan eating horse shit [deadspin.com] other than this Josiah guy wearing a business casual suit, some shinny shoes he got polished in an airport, Skagen wrist watch and a $100 frat boi hair cut.

    I think we have a new definition of silicon-valley-startup-investor-wrangling think tank triple-dog-dare you shit. What happened to all the simple attention getters in life wrapped in proven work, dedication and education? I guess I'm out of touch with what the new kids do these days.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    And it's probably HIM, already. Anyone remember how CRISPR lets them change the thing they want to change, but also causes thousands of random genetic changes in unrelated DNA? The exact reason why more responsible researchers have said that CRISPR is not ready/suitable for use on people? And that the likely result is going to be nasty strains of cancer everywhere in his body

    Coining a new term like "Biohacker" is a cheap attempt to re-brand a "crackpot dumbass".

  • by bahwi ( 43111 ) on Thursday February 22, 2018 @11:04AM (#56169375)

    We make a hundred or so mutants, in an effort to get a few independent events targetting the single gene we are trying to knock-out or replace. That's a success rate of a few percent if you can do math. That's much more accurate than before, but not accurate enough to be a medical treatment at this stage. We try to get a few independent mutants because of off-target effects (the CRISPR doing something to some other gene), if you have a few independent events, it's much more likely the gene you are testing actually does the thing you think it does. Otherwise, if you can't disprove off-target effects, you haven't actually proven it.

  • CRISPR is to biology research as Bitcoin is to economics.

    Yeah something good may come of it, but there are a lot of people screwing around.

    I see no difference between that CEO and the Bitconneeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeect [youtube.com] guy.

    • Re:Analogy (Score:5, Insightful)

      by apoc.famine ( 621563 ) <apoc.famine@NoSPAM.gmail.com> on Thursday February 22, 2018 @12:08PM (#56169685) Journal

      I will make a pedantic comment in response:

      There's nothing fundamentally flawed or bad about the underlying technologies of both. They are well understood, practical solutions that can solve really important problems. CRISPR more than blockchains, but still.

      The issue is the snake-oil sellers, confidence men, and their ilk. We call them startups now, but the same applies.

      Anyone can take a product or process that isn't well understood and sucker rubes with it. It doesn't make that product or process illegitimate.

      • Indeed. CRISPR and public blockchain are powerful technologies. In the 19th century, the railroad was a set of awesome technologies, ones that we depend on today for our modern economy, where almost every early company went bankrupt, while a few clever and ruthless insiders pocketed a lot of money. The past may be giving us hints about the present.

      • Here's another analogy: when humans set out on the ocean (or heck, even across the Mediterranean) many never came back. Millenia later in the age of sail, ships were still leaving port never to return.

        Gene editing is a vast new frontier in human exploration. Why should we expect that it will be less dangerous than the previous ones?

    • Let's do both: alter your DNA so your body mines Bitcoin. Or launch a coin for the purpose. CRISPcoin. Two buzzwords for the price of one.
  • Does their health insurance cover it?

  • You know, he's got ballz to be hacking his own code (DNA), right up until they drop off. Personally, I would never attempt this unless there was a computer simulation, coupled with some AI input on the results to make a risk assessment.

    I have no doubt in the next 10+ years we'll get there where near anyone can walk into a doctors office and obtain a custom injection to fix whatever DNA ailment there is. The computing and genomic technology has dropped substantially in cost already compared to 20 years ago.

  • There's some funky Darwin Awards around the corner.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I remember when hacker had one, cool meaning. Shame it died.

  • I'm taking bets on how long it'll be until someone inadvertently creates a new genetic disease in some reckless attempt to cure something else.
    Also taking lower-odds bets on how long until someone dies of cancer caused by gene modification 'therapy'.
  • Do you want Incredible Hulks? Because that's how you get Incredible Hulks.
  • The first is that a number of science fiction books I've read over the years have prepared me well for this to happen. In that context what we're seeing is a bunch of the biological equivalent of the early blue boxers and hackers (in the original digital explorer and creator meaning of the term) That means that I find the antics of these bio-hackers very troubling because bio-hacking for malign purposes will always be at the same state of the art as these public activities. I can almost guarantee that for e
  • However, what if one of them does crack the case on HIV or Herpes or something like that? What if I could take a single injection that made my metoblism 10% faster, increased muscle mass 10% for absoloutely no risk, once off injection?

    If they crack the case on all this stuff, it'll be world changing.
    Oh and while I'm at it, did any of the injections work, not work?

  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OmH7tAJ0SfA [youtube.com]

    "I'll be honest, we're throwin' science at the wall here to see here what sticks. No idea what it'll do. Probably nothing.
    Best case scenario, you might get some superpowers. Worst case, some tumors. Which we'll cut out."

    (And honestly, no one made a Portal reference already? Really? Oi.)

  • I'm fine with biohacking onesself. One can hardly sue anyone for malpractice.

    Sure people will get hurt. They also die from car accidents, and we let cars exist. People also die from diabetes melitis, HIV, bathtubs, and occasionally peanuts.

    Freedom means many things; it can mean not being subject to fussbudgets who want to save people from themselves.

    Human experimentation is broken, especially in the US where everyone is completely focused on reducing risk to the experimenter and subjects. We can't move. Eve

"For the man who has everything... Penicillin." -- F. Borquin