Until just decades ago, we had no way to rewrite DNA, the genetic code that programs life. That changed with the first forays into gene editing in the 1970s, but the process was the equivalent of programming the first room-sized mainframe computers. There were only a handful of labs with the required technical skills to edit DNA, and it often took years of trial and error to change a single gene.
And then, in 2012, came the invention that is to biology as Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak’s Apple I was to computing: Researchers figured out how to use Crispr, a natural molecule, to dramatically cut the time and cost of gene editing.
With Crispr, suddenly any grad student in biology could successfully engineer organisms in weeks. It’s so accessible that, for $159, an Oakland company called The Odin will sell you a DIY Crispr kit with which you can, say, insert a jellyfish gene into yeast swabbed from your mouth, so it glows green. Here’s mine.