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OAKLAND: In a common house, hidden in a quiet street in Oakland, Josiah Zayner is on a container full of green frogs with a syringe in his hand.
Carefully inject a liquid into the back of a frog while a cage full of crickets emits a screech at the bottom. In four or five weeks, this little tree frog will almost double in size.
"I want to take the knowledge I have and translate it to be able to blow people's minds," said Zayner, whose ears glow with a variety of silver earrings.
Since founding his company, The Odin, in 2006, Zayner and his team have strived to provide the public with the education and tools to safely edit the genes of organisms. So far, they have sold thousands of gene-editing kits and have raised about $ 500,000 in revenue last year. With these low-cost devices, individuals can practice feats of science once they are in a laboratory, such as making yeast that shines in the dark and precise genetic mutations in bacteria.
Now, with the launch of the new frogs kits last November, people can alter the anatomy of a frog with simple injections in their own home.
"When we watch movies and when we dream, what we want are humans with wings or dragons," Zayner said. "People are more interested in the creative and artistic side of science. And you can not get subsidies for those things. "
Zayner is no stranger to the world of gene editing.
After receiving your Ph.D. in molecular biophysics at the University of Chicago, he worked for two years for NASA's Ames space synthetic biology program, where he designed bacteria that could help transform Mars into a suitable planet for human life.
Since 2016, he has invested his time in The Odin and became known for his controversial DIY CRISPR kits.
But unlike CRISPR kits, the frog kit employs a lesser-known gene editing process called liquid formulated to improve biology engineering, or FLEEB.
FLEEB uses a special liquid that is a mixture of fats and a protein called insulin-like growth factor, or IGF-1, which is critical in the growth of tissues and muscles in adults. Once injected into the frog, the fats allow the IGF-1 to slide smoothly through the cell wall. The DNA inside IGF-1 then tricks the cell into thinking it is part of the cell's DNA, thus stimulating cell growth.
But these changes are not carried to the offspring of the frog. Cells modified by IGF-1 injections are not the same as the reproductive cells of the frog that make up their sperm or eggs.
Zayner's goal is to promote this type of science in high school clbadrooms around the world.
"We're trying to say:" Look, your high school does not need to do the frog dissection anymore, "he said. By giving students the opportunity to carry out practical gene-editing projects, "you can move on to 2019 and perform modern scientific experiments."
Biochemist Kate Adamala, who is a guest lecturer in Zayner's online CRISPR and biohacking clbad, believes that these clbades are key to dispelling public fears and misunderstandings about genetic engineering. They can also promote more students to pursue a career in science.
"If we expose more people to the idea that it is not black magic, they can consider devoting themselves to science," Adamala said. "It can make science education more fun and show people who thought they were not smart enough to become a science of what they really are."
But the infectious disease expert at Stanford University, Dr. David Relman, who runs the Center for International Security and Cooperation, has serious concerns.
Although Relman supports the reflective and productive commitment in science by the general public, it strongly opposes Zayner's method.
"You can not just go to a cabin and fly an airplane," Relman said. "In the same way, you can not just take a pipette and do science."
Science involves a set of moral and ethical principles, particularly when it comes to testing animals. According to Relman, distributing frogs gene therapy kits for anyone to use is a clear breach of those principles.
"By looking at this work, you get the feeling that the frogs have been considered of less significance and value, and therefore it is good to play with their genomes," he said. "I reject that."
Although the editing of genes only modifies the non-reproductive cells of the frog, Relman is concerned that these kits are the beginning of a slippery slope.
Zayner says the creation of his frogs gene therapy kits involved extensive research and compliance with animal testing laws. However, he understands that the sale of these kits will cause a lot of anger and fear.
"What I'm learning is that time (in the sale of kits) is sometimes more important than just knowing you can do it," he said.
But regardless of the reactions of others, Zayner is determined to continue breaking new ground in the field of gene editing, particularly through his online CRISPR tutorial, one of the most popular articles in The Odin.
By reaching as wide an audience as possible, he hopes that citizen scientists will eventually use their education to discover new opportunities in gene editing and invent products that may one day save lives.
"When science and gene editing enter our culture through people who explore the unknown, I think that's when I'll feel happy," Zayner said. "I want to live in that world."