Merry CRISPR-MAS, everyone!

by Ralf Stutzki, May 18, 2017

Don’t tell my wife – but I have just found the perfect gift for the most special time of the year. I am talking about a CRISPR kit, the hype-, hyper-, hypest alternative for boring evenings when you can’t access your Netflix account due to internet failure of your cable provider. Already a number of North American companies offer all kinds of variations of these biology minilabs for ages 12+. The US start up “The ODIN” e.g. sells its genetic engineering kit for only $150.1 Canadian based „Amino Labs“ offers a DNA Playground starting at $349. This beautiful white & blue plastic box with red, orange and pink buttons on top of it really is an eye catcher and can, if you ask me, also be used as a very stylish food storage container for your lunch break. But Amino Labs promises much more, announcing that the kit „helps you to engineer bacteria like a professional. The starter set has everything needed to do hands-on genetic engineering: make bacteria create pigments!“2 Now - I am not quite sure whether or not my wife always dreamt about ruling over a colony of bacteria and ordering them to create pigments - but I do think it's worth a try.

The DNA Playground comes along with a number of very handy tools and accessories: a standard K12 strain of E. coli cells, SNA plasmid, antibiotica, blue and yellow loops, petri dishes – just to name a few. You can even choose from one of 10 pigments (my personal favourite being fluorescent Raspberry Red). With my CRISPR-MAS gratification 2017 almost in sight I even briefly considered to order the DNA kit with WiFi (just add another 75 bucks). I guess with this additional application you can chat with, say, Grandma while you are teaching your new family members - the fluorescent Raspberry Red bacteria - the true meaning of Heidegger’s “Sein des Seienden”. But of course WiFi here only makes sense if 

a) your Internet provider does what you pay him for (p r o v i d e INTERNET!) and

b) if grandma is not offline most of the time, which unfortunately, is the case with mine.

Depending on the kit size and configuration, you can even order a DNA Playground for $724 (special offer instead of $754 – buy now!). I really do love my wife but I think I can underline that kind of emotion with presents significantly below the 500 USD margin.

In case you are wondering whether or not these kinds of kits are legal and safe: yes, they are legal (in North America) and yes, they are safe (in North America). According to Amino labs, the kits use “a friendly type of bacteria” which can be used by “anyone, anywhere in North America. It is non-pathogenic, and part of BioSafety Level 1 / Risk Group 1 Classification.”2

The legal situation in e.g. Switzerland and Germany is a completely different one. To make a long story short: when it comes to playing around with friendly bacteria and making them create pigments in your living room these European countries are spoilsports. According to the Swiss “Gentechnikgesetz” (Genetic Engineering Act), genetic modifications of this kind must be reported and officially approved. Violators will be punished. Legislation in Germany is similar. If you import and open the gene editing “box” you may be fined up to EUR 50’000.- and may even get a chance to meet your colleague “Future Nobel Leisure Laureates” serving their up to three-year prison sentence next door to your cell.

Come to think of it - official approval of the DNA kits might not be such a bad idea after all: the German Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Service recently issued a warning that the Bavarian State Office for Health and Food Safety has found pathogens in the genetic engineering kit sold by “The ODIN”. Buyers of this set are “requested not to use the kits for the time being and to contact the local health authority.”3 The manufacturer has already disputed this accusation, suspecting that the Bavarians may have used inaccurate biochemical methods and thus could have received incorrect results (which in turn the Bavarians dispute).4

You know what? I am starting to have second thoughts about buying a Do it Yourself DNA kit for the most special time of the year. After all – it is not even summer yet.

Merry CRISPR-MAS, everyone!

Ralf Stutzki






Ralf Stutzki, Head Ethics