Regulating genetic biohacking

05 July 2019 Vol 365, Issue 6448


Policy Forum
Regulating genetic biohacking
By Patricia J. Zettler, Christi J. Guerrini, Jacob S. Sherkow
Science05 Jul 2019 : 34-36 Restricted Access
Emphasize community engagement, not perfect compliance
Just as the popularization of computers in the late 1970s and early 1980s gave rise to computer hacking, the recent accessibility and affordability of relatively easy (and widely hyped) genome-editing technologies and resources has spurred interest in genetic “biohacking”—molecular genetics experiments performed outside institutional laboratories by individuals who may have little formal scientific training. Regulation of the work of professional scientists and traditional scientific institutions is robust, although it still faces scrutiny in the wake of He Jiankui’s genome-editing experiments on Chinese twins (1). However, regulation of genetic biohacking has received far less attention, even though, like traditional scientific research, it is likely to produce a range of innovations while posing a number of risks to public health. Here, we explore these risks and the consequences of understanding that some instances of regulatory failure for biohacking are inevitable. And, where they are not, we suggest that agencies, policy-makers, and private parties have the opportunity to improve oversight of genetic biohacking using the tools they currently possess.