The Dutch newspaper Trouw published an article on 'DIY DNA' (in Dutch) in which two Americans are featured who developed their own genetic therapy: Josiah Zayner and Tristan Roberts. Lucas Evers of our Open Wetlab was asked to react on this development, besides Hidde Haisma, professor in pharmaceutical genetic modification in Groningen.
While Haisma is sceptical of the chances on success, Evers is more positive about the DIY-process. He is following Zayner for some time on social media, as Waag sometimes uses the DIY-kits that Zayner sells through his company The Odin. With these kits, you can modify e.g. yeast with the CRISPR-cas9 method to brew glow-in-the-dark beer.
"Zayner wants to democratize gen technology," says Evers. "He represents the radical mentality of Silicon Valley, in which nothing should stand in the way of innovation." Evers would not discourage anyone with a do-it-yourself question, but try to bring them in contact with experts. "Not if the aim is to make a glow-in-the-dark tattoo, but certainly if they have a serious idea for curing a disease. It would not be the first time that a patient discovers a treatment."
Evers daily receives spam from Chinese biotech companies that deliver plasmides on request. On the Internet, programmes are available to help design the right kind of DNA. So he does think it is feasible to do it. "But it is also illegal, even if you make all the steps in the process yourself", he emphasizes.
In The Netherlands, for every experiment with genetic modification a special permit is required. At the BioHack Academy, a safety officer is always watching over the experiments. The step to actually modify the genes of a yeast or bacteria is never made.