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Don’t change your DNA at home, says America’s first CRISPR law

It’s going to be illegal in California to sell “gene-therapy kits” unless they carry a warning that says not to use them on yourself.

Just one wrinkle: we’re not sure any such kit exists. Not yet, anyway.

The consumer protection rule is in a bill signed by Governor Gavin Newsom on July 30 and will become law in January. It targets hobbyist kits employing CRISPR, the versatile gene-editing tool that has revolutionized gene research.

Sales of certain do-it-yourself CRISPR supplies will be prohibited unless they carry a bold notice “stating that the kit is not for self-administration.”

It’s the first law in the US to directly regulate CRISPR, says its author, Republican state senator Ling Ling Chang.

The law appears to take aim at a California resident, Josiah Zayner, whose Oakland company, The Odin, sells genetic-engineering supplies to amateurs online. He won notoriety in 2017 when he filmed himself injecting CRISPR into his own arm.

“It’s obviously targeting me,” says Zayner, an outspoken biohacker also currently under investigation by California Department of Consumer Affairs for practicing medicine without a license.

Asked for examples of products the bill could affect, Chang’s staff provided a link to an Amazon ad for a $159 box of supplies sold by Zayner, which “includes everything you need to make precision genome edits in bacteria at home.”

Because that kit targets genes in bacteria, however, it wouldn’t have any effect in humans, and it’s not clear why it would need a warning label. “It’s like saying a skateboard needs to have a sticker to say it can’t be used on the freeway. It doesn’t make any sense,” says Zayner.

MIT Technology Review was not able to find any product currently for sale by Zayner or others that would meet the definitions set up by Chang’s legislation.

In any case, the sale of do-it-yourself gene-therapy products is already prohibited. In 2017, the Food and Drug Administration said selling gene-editing products intended for self-administration “is against the law” because they haven’t been approved.




UC Berkeley



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