DIY Kits Encourage Biohacking at Home

NASA scientist offers kits for genetic hacking ranging from $75 to $5,000. Continue reading →

Here at Discovery News, we like to unwind on the weekends by pulling out the old living room centrifuge and doing a little recreational genetic engineering. It's like Sudoku, but with petri dishes. Very relaxing.

So we were exited to read about this new initiative from NASA researcher Josiah Zayner, in which novice biohackers can create their own genetic editing experiments from the comfort of their own homes.

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Zayner's project uses the gene editing tool known as CRISPR, which facilitates making specific changes to the DNA of humans, plants and animals. It's a relatively simple technique, as far as genetic lab work goes, and Zayner figures he can encourage crowdsourced science projects by selling kits directly to amateur citizen-scientists.

"I've spent the last several months developing protocols and kits so people can perform safe experiments with modern technologies like CRISPR in their home," Zayner says in his Indiegogo demo video.

The concept was borne from Zayner's frustration at only being able to accomplish so much when working alone as a research fellow with NASA's synthetic biology program. By encouraging crowdsourced science, Zayner hopes to make progress on large-scale projects like engineering bacteria for terraforming Mars.

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If the Indigogo project succeeds, Zayner's company will offer several different ranging in price from $75 to $5,000. Each genome engineering kit comes with a different set of tools, including micropipettes and tips, a microcentrifuge rack, and yeast or bacteria cultures. Zayner insists the kits are perfectly safe, although the pledge descriptions on Indiegogo rather ominously warn backers to "check with local laws before ordering."

"Each kit comes with everything you need to perform cutting edge science experiments, along with detailed written and video protocols," Zayner says. "So now the question is, if you had access to cutting-edge synthetic biology tools, what would you create?"

via Popular Science

A new movement is underway that appeals to a group people unsatisfied with limits of their natural-born bodies. We're not talking plastic surgery here; we're talking bio-hacking. Bio-hackers are mainly interested in augmenting or improving their own biology or the biology of another living organism through the use of biotechnology and genetic engineering. The tools of the trade, once relegated to scientific laboratories, have come down in cost significantly, making do-it-yourself bioengineering and garage-based DNA sequencing available to anyone. Bio-hackers are fundamentally interested in altering the human condition -- usually for the better. We take a look at 10 extreme and not-so-extreme examples.


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Tim Cannon

, known as the “DIY Cyborg,” implanted a Circadia 1.0 computer chip, which is the size of a smartphone, under the skin of his forearm. The chip monitors his vital signs, then transmits the data in real-time to his Android device via Bluetooth. The device is capable of, say, sending him a text when he’s getting a fever and then determining which factors are causing the fever.


Gruesome: 'Biohacker' Implants Sensor In His Arm

Dutch journalist

Rene Shoemaker

implanted a near-field communication (NFC) chip -- roughly the size of a grain of rice -- in his hand to make it possible to enter buildings, log onto his PC instead of typing a password, and pay for goods. He was also in talks with a global IT security firm to experiment ways to use the chip in his hand to install malware on unsuspecting smartphones.


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Anthony Antonellis

embedded a radio frequency identification (RFID) under his skin, between his thumb and index finger, to upload new GIFs onto the chip from his smartphone. The images are viewable only by cellphone; if he or others swipe a cell phone over his skin, they'll be able to get a glimpse of the digital tattoo.


Man Embeds Chip In His Hand, Hacks Phones With It

Amal Graafstra

, known as one of the first DIY RFID implantees in the world, has chips implanted in both of his hands. As a result, he can unlock doors, turn on lights and log into his computer just by swiping a hand. Graafstra also started

Dangerous Things

, an online store, where bio-hackers can purchase supplies for embedding technology into their own lives, and by lives, we mean "skin."


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Dave Asprey

, Silicon investor and technology entrepreneur, spent $300,000 to hack his own biology. He set out to discover ways to manipulate his own biology and IQ. He used a variety of supplements and neuro-feedback training to upgrade his brain by more than 20 IQ points. He also lowered his biological age while learning to sleep more efficiently in less time. He biohacked his way toward losing weight without using exercise and invented Bulletproof Coffee, a coffee mixed with butter. Asprey is also the inventor of FATWater, a beverage infused with fat to allegedly help burn fat.


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Two California biohackers,

Gabriel Licina and Jeffrey Tibbetts

, created an eyedrop made primarily of Chlorin e6, derived from a deep-sea bioluminescent fish. They claim the drops help them make out people over 160 feet away in complete darkness.


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Sara Gottfried

, MD, biohacker and author of “The Hormone Cure,” claims that anyone can biohack their hormones. She reportedly hacked her growth hormone (GH), which is the hormone that helps children grow taller as they age and impacts fat breakdown, cellular growth, muscle mass and protein synthesis in adults. Since studies have shown that decreased levels of GH can increase fat and lower energy, Gottfried set out to naturally raise her GH levels with exercise, specifically high-intensity interval training. With this type of exercise, also known as burst training, she increased her GH levels 53 percent, compared to her levels pre-burst training, over a six-week period. Gottfried incorporated a combination of other strategies as well, including cutting out excess sugar in her diet, taking melatonin supplements, increasing her sleep to at least eight hours per night and reducing stress through yoga.


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Steve Mann

, regarded as the world’s first cyborg, invented the Eyetap Digital Glass, which he now always wears. Mann allegedly augmented his vision, ability to capture and process images and make decisions by wearing the digital glasses.

Anthony Evans

and his team created

glow-in-the-dark plants

by synthetically cross-breeding Arabidopsis and marine bioluminescent bacteria. The biohackers assembled the genes virtually using a software called genetic compiler and sent the gene specs to DNA assembling companies to build the actual DNA. The team imported the genes by using bacteria Agrobacterium tumefaciens.


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Biohackers from two California groups -- Counter Culture Labs (Oakland) and BioCurious (Sunnyvale) -- have engineered brewer's yeast to produce casein, a milk protein. The protein is mixed with water and vegan oil to make Vegan Milk. The milk is then turned into cheese using standard cheese-making methods.


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