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CRISPR is the new darling of the genetics world, because it allows you to easily edit DNA. It is far more effective than previous techniques, being both precise and relatively easy to use. According to this IndieGoGo project, it is coming to your home lab soon. Genetic researchers love Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) because it allows you to very precisely edit a DNA strand. Using a protein called CAS9, CRISPR can find a very specific sequence in a DNA sequence and cut it. It occurs naturally in cells as part of the immune system: by finding and remembering parts of virus DNA, a cell can recognize and attack it when infected. For the genetics researcher, this allows them to insert new DNA sequences at specific points in the genes of any living cell.
The IndieGoGo project is set up by Dr Josiah Zayner, who works as a Postdoctoral Researcher at the NASA Ames Research Center. In his spare time, he runs a site called The ODIN (or the Open Discovery Institute) that helps genetic researchers collate and share their work. The IndieGoGo project is an offshoot of that, and for $130, it is offering everything you need to edit the DNA of bacteria so they can survive on a new food source. Add another $20 and you get the ability to edit the DNA of yeast so that they turn red.
That might sound trivial, but the idea here is intriguing. In the accompanying video, Dr Zayner says that “As a single scientist, I can only accomplish so much. I began to think: what if the scientific population of the world doubled? What if the lab I had at NASA could be found at a kitchen table?” In effect, he is trying to throw the doors of the world of genetic editing open to all. As Zayner puts it, “If you had access to synthetic biology tools, what would you create?”.