Tag Archives: Annie Sneed

Creating a supervirus in your kitchen?

CRISPR gene editing kits can now be mail ordered to your home. Could amateurs create a bug that could destroy civilization?

That is a question examined by a writer for Scientific American who ordered a kit herself.  She details what she did with her kit and the question of whether anyone with an expert knowledge of gene research thinks something useful might come out of any home users and their.  That writer also talks to scientists familiar with CRISPR and asks whether a nightmare scenario of a harmful bug created with CRISPR is possible.

Writer Annie Sneed notes: 

“Honey! Look what I created in the garage with CRISPR!”

As for my bigger question—could untrained DIY-ers actually achieve scientific breakthroughs?—I asked academic researchers what they thought. Dana Carroll, for his part, believes amateurs could make meaningful discoveries. “In the professional science community, people keep coming up with new ways to use this technology—people are really only limited by their imagination,” he explains. “It’s possible that people working in their garages or their kitchens will come up with a novel application or a solution to a problem that professionals just haven’t gotten around to.” And Carroll says it would be easy for a DIY-er to share any discoveries with researchers, by attending their talks or simply by contacting them through their Web sites. Yet he notes that the DIY community faces limitations, because amateur scientists likely would lack the necessary resources. “It’s unlikely they will bring a major application all the way to fruition,” he says, “But they could certainly get started on something.”

As to the possible dangers, Sneed writes:

Finally, what about the nightmare scenario: Is CRISPR so easy to use that we need to worry about biohackers—either accidentally or intentionally—creating dangerous pathogens? Carroll and others think that the danger of putting CRISPR in the hands of the average person is relatively low. “People have imagined scenarios where scientists could use CRISPR to generate a virulent pathogen, ” he says. “How big is the risk? It’s not zero, but it’s fairly small.” Gersbach agrees. “Right now, it’s difficult to imagine how it’d be dangerous in a real way,” he explains, “If you want to do harm, there are much easier and simpler ways than using this highly sophisticated genetic editing technique.”

But that is all at the end of the article. If you are a science nerd at all, the entire article makes for interesting reading. 

I have also included a video from the renowned Broad Institute about CRISPR, which is part of a short FAQ from the Broad about CRISPR.