California state officials have passed the first law to prohibit genetic biohacking in an effort to regulate the controversial practice. The new law warns biohackers not to edit their own genes and makes it illegal to sell do-it-yourself genetic engineering kits unless they clearly state that they are not to be used for self-administration.
California wants to make it clear that tampering with your own genes is not something that people you should be trying to do “at home.”
The advent of the powerful gene-editing tool CRISPR has led to a biohacking movement that has got people interested in tinkering with their own genes for the purpose of self-enhancement.
The issue has prompted legislators in California to regulate the practice and last month Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill authored by Republican state Senator Ling Chang that is the first to address the amateur use of gene-editing technology.
The requirement that the kits carry a clear warning stating that they must not be used for self-administration will become law from January next year.
I’m proud to announce the Governor signed my bill addressing human biohacking. CRISPR is becoming widely available, but many in the scientific community have sounded the alarm that it could have negative consequences outside professional labs. This first ever legislation addressing emerging CRISPR technology will help prevent safety mishaps by amateur users of CRISPR kits.”
Ling Chang, Senator
People can now use the technology in kitchens and garages
Emerging genetic engineering technologies are quickly becoming widely available and cheap enough for biohacking hobbyists to start using them at home, a development that has scientists and public officials worried about how to restrict the sale of home gene therapy kits.
The term “biohacking” can refer to a wide range of do-it-yourself approaches to biology, from experimenting on yeast, for example, to giving yourself a fecal transplant.
The type of biohackers that are currently causing the most concern is a subsection of hobbyists who are increasingly carrying out experiments to enhance themselves, with procedures ranging from self-prescribing drugs to boost performance through to installing sense-enhancing cybernetic implants.
Now, the increasing availability of CRISPR technology has meant it is being used in kitchens and garages by a growing number of biohackers who want to stretch the very limits of what it means to be a human being by altering their own genomes.
Current regulations were not designed to make sense of such a phenomenon, which means many biohacking pursuits lie within a legal grey zone where organizations such as the FDA largely frown upon them but know they are not yet classed as illegal. With such activities not yet enforced as outright illegal, regulators are struggling to keep up with biohackers.