Category Archives: medicine

Hacking Your DNA: A 360 film featuring Biohacker Josiah Zayner

Have you ever wanted to hack your DNA, editing away disease or improve your strength and athletic performance? Well, I have always been quite curious about it and so I got together with my friend Boonsri Srinivasan, and visited biohacker Josiah Zayner’s home lab. Armed with our 360 camera we made a short film, “Hacking Your DNA”, which gives you a unique and immersive experience into a do-it-yourself lab. You too can look around and explore the workings of a DIY lab, just like us.

Making headlines in the New York Times, Wired, New Scientist and other major news outlets, Zayner is known for pushing the boundaries of DIY self experimentation. Most recently he performed a CRISPR experiment on himself – injecting into his muscle, DNA containing the Cas9 protein and guideRNA(gRNA) targeted to his Myostatin gene (a gene involved in muscle inhibition). By doing this Zayner not only sought larger muscles but became the first person in the world to genetically modify his own DNA.

Zayner is not just some science enthusiast, he is a trained scientist and worked at NASA before starting his own company, The ODIN. He believed more science can be done if it is accessible to the public and that is why he is selling genetic engineering kits, so science can be done anywhere, not just in a scientific laboratory.

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A Colourful Success in Medicine

I’d like to share this video with you (I love it so much I have posted it twice on my Twitter account, so I have to apologise if you follow me and are fed up with this link).

You may be thinking, “you’re not a surgeon, so why are you so excited by this?”, well although I think Quyen Nguyen is working on a fantastic idea for cancer surgery, my reason for liking this video is more of the historical link between colour and medicine.

I remember when I first learnt about William Perkin in A-Level chemistry and to this day I am still so impressed by how one man’s accidental discovery influenced many facets of our society.

In 1856, the only viable antimalarial drug was quinine, and with its demand beginning to surpass its available supply, an 18-year-old William Perkin set out to try to make it synthetically, using the waste product coal-tar. Perkin’s synthesis didn’t go quite to plan and he was instead left with a black sludge which he later refined into a vivid purple hue. Being the shrewd person he realised its potential as a textile dye and knew not to discard this discovery. He later named this colour mauve and it became known as the first synthetic dye. After patenting his dye Perkin set up a factory in Greenford Green (London, UK) with his father and brother. With Queen Victoria and Empress Eugénie of France seen to endorse the colour, “mauve mania” spread and commercial success was soon achieved.

William Perkin holding a sample of fabric dyed with his chemical discovery: mauve.

William Perkin holding a sample of fabric dyed with his chemical discovery: mauve.

Perkin’s discovery is remarkable not only because it had an impact on fashion and society (working class people could readily afford colourful textiles), it also led to further developments in synthetic colours, playing a huge role in medicine – the staining agent methylene blue was used by Koch to discover the bacilli of tuberculosis and cholera; and (one which I’m sure Perkin himself would be happy about) this same agent was shown by Ehrlich to have antimalarial properties. Perkin’s discovery also created further interest in organic chemistry which is still at the heart of today’s pharmaceutical industry.

The video above is just one example of how synthetic dyes are still playing a role in medicine and biomedical research. I love the back story – after all, who would have ever thought that the advancements in fashion and medicine were so closely linked!