A Day In The Life: The Way Science Is Currently Done Is Wrong
Interested in how Biohacking is changing science? Come and meet Josiah at the Festival of Genomics San Diego taking place on 26th-27th of June 2017!
Josiah Zayner is a global leader in the BioHacker movement, constantly pushing the boundaries of Science outside traditional environments. He started BioHacking during his Ph.D. in Molecular Biophysics at the University of Chicago, creating The Chromochord in his apartment, the world’s first musical instrument that uses engineered protein nanotechnology. After his Ph.D., Josiah received a prestigious fellowship to work with NASA’s Synthetic Biology program, engineering bacteria to help terraform Mars. Now he is the Founder and CEO of The ODIN, a company that is making genetic engineering available to consumers at home. He is also the focus of a recently premiered documentary titled Gut Hack about a full-body microbiome transplant he did in 2016. He enjoys Whiskey and Red Bull, sometimes together. This is what a typical day looks like for him in his own words:
The way Science is currently done is wrong. The idea that fundamental or hypothesis driven research leads to more innovation has never been tested and goal driven research has not been explored. After my Ph.D. at the University of Chicago and two years spent at NASA I decided to leave and become an independent Scientist, or as I am more colloquially know, a Biohacker. I want to tell you a story you probably have never heard, a day in my life, a day in the life of being on the fringes of acceptable Science, a day in the life of a Biohacker.
In Jan 2016, I left NASA to begin to work full-time on my company The ODIN. My goal is to bring genetic engineering to consumers but selling Science kits is only a small part of job.
I was having trouble sleeping. It happens a lot and I have tried a bunch to overcome this issue. Part of it is anxiety, I have so many unanswered emails but the one that is weighing the most is from Alexsander. His wife has Non-Small Cell Lung Carcinoma(NSCLC) and she is in her 30’s, a never smoker. No current treatments can help her much and most academics could only provide patronising emails about how they hope the best. I don’t have the benefit of hoping, it’s just not in me. Instead, I do. I can’t stand by. Researching DNA vaccines and neo-antigens. Sending off a few emails to researchers and companies. One in response to a company that refuses provide supplies to me because of who I am. It’s common. Yes, I have been told by companies that they won’t sell me Sodium Chloride because it is an inhalation hazard. Others outright tell me they won’t sell to me because they don’t support consumer access, they looked me up on the internet. Have you ever had to lie to get companies to ship you safe science supplies? I have.
I tell myself that I am in the business of offering people hope. Hope to help themselves with an incurable disease. Hope to create something brilliant and new, a beer yeast that makes resveratrol, a way to prevent colony collapse disorder in bees. Time for some coffee and maybe an egg sandwich with vegan sausage, it is supposed to be healthy and well, it almost tastes real.
I might have an hour to myself and this is my best thinking time. Let’s code my own open source DNA vectors so that companies can’t stop me from providing materials to people, can’t stop us, after all biohackers are all alike.
I head into work. The ODIN is run out of a house in Oakland. We have an 800 sq ft open space with 4 lab benches and all the equipment we need to make and ship kits that allow people to do genetic engineering in their home. The lab was assembled for less than $3k.
I start planning what needs to be shipped out that day and then I start packing boxes. We ship to high schools, colleges, young people, old people, we strive to reach the general population. Despite our company having some of if not the lowest prices on some materials, academic and industry Scientists rarely purchase from us, even friends or my Ph.D. mentors. It makes me question many Scientist’s motives. The outcry when funding is cut from the NIH makes me exasperated because people are paying 10-15 cents each for microcentrifuge tubes that cost fractions of a cent to make. We need better money management in science before labs deserve more money.
Lunch is a nice break, with the Champions League on this time of year. I usually order some Chinese food from a restaurant across the street and sit down and watch part of a match. Not terrible food and only $5.50 for two meals. Hala Madrid y nada mas.
The local post office closes at 6PM so we all are packing boxes up till about 545PM. I am an expert box packer. Definitely did not learn how to do that during my Ph.D. After, everyone leaves I have some time to work on my own projects for a little bit. My project are pretty crazy and range from from creating DIY yeast CRISPR kits to making accessible human genetic engineering.
I usually head home around 7:30PM mentally and physically exhausted. I still try and take the stairs at the BART train station. I can make it up as fast as the people on the escalator next to me, my exercise for the day.
I arrive home with enough time to cook dinner and watch one 45 minute TV show. I take at least one day off on the weekend where I try and catch up on shows and be slothful but the battle is futile. Too many good TV shows and too little time. Before bed I receive a Facebook message from the same person who has been messaging me all week. They have HIV and are wondering if it is possible to use CRISPR to cure themselves. Most research shows the answer is no, but I don’t have the heart to tell them that yet. I head to bed wondering if tonight will be one of those rare nights where I sleep for 8 hours. My fantasy fades as I wonder if there is some HIV research I am overlooking.
Josiah will be presenting ‘Who is a Scientist? How biohackers are changing the world.’ and leading the discussion on ‘How to genetically engineer a human in your garage.’ at the Festival of Genomics.