Oakland's Josiah Zayner publishes a DIY gene editing guide and once injected his own arm with DNA, while sipping Scotch, in a live-streamed event watched by nearly 150,000 people.
Does that make him a criminal?  The state is investigating Zayner, a popular biohacker and provocateur, for practicing medicine without a license, according to a star letter issued this month by the California Department of Consumer Affairs.
It is the first regulatory challenge of the one-time NASA scientist who has earned celebrity by pushing the boundaries of do-it-yourself genetic experimentation.
Zayner, whose company sells CRISPR editing kits to the public and is advised by prominent Harvard geneticist George Church, is stunned by the news and says he'll fight the allegation. "" I am frustrated to be the target of this investigation, "he said. "I have always tried to work within the confines of U.S. laws and regulations, because I really do want to help people and not create pretend science or medicine. ”
The state says somebody filed a complaint against Zayner, but a Consumer Affairs spokesperson would not discuss specifics or say who filed it. State investigators have requested and interviewed with Zayner, inviting him to bring an attorney. for anilment, blemish, deformity, disease, dysfigurement, disorder, injury, or any other physical or mental condition without a valid certificate or authorization for doing so. ”Violations are punishable by a fine of up to $ 1
With a shock of dyed blonde hair and ear piercings, Zayner takes his inspiration from the early days of personal computing, when the Homebrew Computer Club and other hobbyists shared now legendary ideas and experiments.
The University of Chicago-educated molecular biophysicist worked for Mountain View's NASA Ames Space Synthetic Biology program for two years, where he engineered bacteria that could help transform Mars into a planet suitable for human life.  Since 2016, it is focused on its company, The Odin. He says his goal is to promote do-it-yourself biology in high school classrooms around the globe
The company's business and science advisor is Church, professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School and director of PersonalGenomes.org, which provides open -access information on human genomic, environmental and trait data
Critics say the company's work raises the specter – deeply troubling to some experts – of a day when dangerous gene editing is conducted from the eyes of government regulators, posing risk to the environment or human health
His online company was the first to market a simplified version of the CRISPR tool to the masses – a project that, for now, is more provocative than perilous. The kit has limited applications. Most scientists would agree that his altered bacteria and yeast are quite harmless, leading brief and fairly dull lives. His $ 299 frog-editing kit injects into a genre-editing liquid into a tree frog's back, causing the amphibian to double in size in four to five weeks. . It doesn't alter future generations; When the frog dies, so does the experiment.
At and October 2017 conference called SynBioBeta, a synthetic biology industry meeting hero in San Francisco, he filled with syringes with DNA editing and injected into his left arm. ] To a round of applause, then shared on YouTube, Zayner said, "This will modify my muscle to give me bigger muscles."
Hank Greely, director of the Center for Law and Biosciences at Stanford Law School, has watched Zayner's work with interest.
“I suppose you might be able to make a case against a person for unauthorized practice of medicine on himself but a) depends on the statute's becoming (which I don't know) and b) why bother? ”he wrote.
“ It wouldn't shock me if Josiah had recommended things to people in ways that could be constructed as giving them medical advice, though I suspect he was careful in his wording, ”according to Greely
Zayner asserts, "You never did yone anything to ever use, never have any material to treat and never claim to provide treatments or cures – because I knew this day would come. ”
Angrily, he tweeted :“ The (expletive) up part is so many people are dying because of the fact that the FDA and government refuses to allow people access to cutting edge treatments or in some cases even basic health care. Yet I am the one threatened with jail. ”