What it’s turned into now, people view it as a way to get press and get publicity and get famous. And people are going to get hurt. There’s no doubt in my mind that somebody is going to end up hurt eventually. Everybody is trying to one-up each other more and more. It’s just getting more and more dangerous, like the whole lactose-tolerance thing. These guys are saying they purified a virus and then ingested it.
Zhang: What was your goal as a social activist then?
Zayner: One of my big problems with academic and medical science is you read lots of these papers. Lots of stuff, we cured X or we did X, but it won’t be available to the general public for 10, 20, 30, 40 years. To me, that seems ridiculous. How do you expect this technology go forward if they aren’t testing, playing around it?
What is too early and what is too late? I don’t know if there’s an answer. I don’t know if I’m the correct one to ask that question. But maybe activists putting this knowledge out there, letting people know how easy and accessible it is, can spur people to push this stuff. Develop it more. Develop it faster. Develop it quicker. Maybe just completely because they’re afraid biohackers will beat them too it. Maybe because they’re afraid biohackers will do something stupid.
I’m not saying I’m 100 percent right. Obviously, I’m a fallible human being, and I do ridiculous stuff also. I’m sure my motives are not 100 percent pure all the time.
Zhang: You run a company that sells DIY CRISPR kits, including the DNA construct that you injected to disrupt a muscle gene. Have recent events made you rethink how you run your company? Are you going to keep selling DIY CRISPR kits?
Zayner: Oh, well, most of our CRISPR kits are used for engineering microorganisms—they’re used in yeast and bacteria and things like that. We do sell the CRISPR DNA and other DNA. But like I said, that should be made available just because if these tools aren’t made available, people will still make them somehow. Pushing it to the outskirts, pushing it underground, is going to push people to do ridiculous uninformed, things. If it’s out in the open, I can have people coming to me and asking questions about it. You have people coming to the community asking questions. I don’t know if it’s changed the way we run the company. We sell education kits and we sell supplies, and I think it’s always going to be our stance.
There have been people who’ve contacted us for the sole purpose of buying stuff from us to inject. We seriously discourage people from doing that. Obviously we can’t stop them from doing it, but we discourage people and try to point them in correct direction so they can seek out knowledge.
Zhang: Even if you discourage people, you are on camera injecting yourself.
Zayner: I know—it’s a moral and ethical dilemma. This is what I was talking about. That’s why I feel responsible for this shit. When I was doing it—it’s so funny, because maybe you and maybe some other science writers knew about me before I did this and some other experiments, but nobody really paid attention to me. It wasn’t like, “Oh yeah, I’m doing this and I expect all of sudden thousands or tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of people to listen to me and see what I’m doing.”