New gene-editing technology could be used to save species from extinction—or to eliminate them.
The Odin, in Oakland, California, is a company that sells genetic-engineering kits. The company’s founder, Josiah Zayner, sports a side-swept undercut, multiple piercings, and a tattoo that urges: “Create Something Beautiful.” He holds a Ph.D. in biophysics and is a well-known provocateur. Among his many stunts, he has coaxed his skin to produce a fluorescent protein, ingested a friend’s poop in a D.I.Y. fecal-matter transplant, and attempted to deactivate one of his genes so that he could grow bigger muscles. (This last effort, he acknowledges, failed.) Zayner calls himself a genetic designer and has said that his goal is to give people access to the resources they need to modify life in their spare time.
The Odin’s offerings range from a “Biohack the Planet” shot glass, which costs three bucks, to a “genetic engineering home lab kit,” which runs almost two thousand dollars and includes a centrifuge, a polymerase-chain-reaction machine, and an electrophoresis gel box. I opted for something in between: the “bacterial CRISPR and fluorescent yeast combo kit,” which set me back two hundred and nine dollars. It came in a cardboard box decorated with the company’s logo, a twisting tree circled by a double helix. The tree, I believe, is supposed to represent Yggdrasil, whose trunk, in Norse mythology, rises through the center of the cosmos.
Inside the box, I found an assortment of lab tools—pipette tips, petri dishes, disposable gloves—as well as several vials containing E. coli and all I’d need to rearrange its genome. The E. coli went into the fridge, next to the butter. The other vials went into a bin in the freezer, with the ice cream.
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