Jo Zayner

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(Redirected from Josiah Zayner)

Jo Zayner
Jo Zayner 2023a.jpg
Born (1981-02-08) February 8, 1981 (age 41)
Occupation(s)Bio-engineer, biohacker, and CEO of The ODIN
Known forSelf-experimentation with genetic material

Jo Zayner (formerly Josiah Zayner; born February 8, 1981) is a biohacker, artist, and scientist best known for their self-experimentation and work making hands-on genetic engineering accessible to a lay audience, including CRISPR.


At the age of 19, Zayner worked at Motorola as a programmer. They have a BA in plant biology from Southern Illinois University and a Ph.D in biophysics (2013) from the University of Chicago. Before receiving their Ph.D, Zayner earned an MSc in cell and molecular biology from Appalachian State University.[1]


Zayner spent two years as a researcher at the Mountain View, California's NASA Ames Space Synthetic Biology Research Center,[2][3] where they worked on Martian colony habitat design. While at the agency, Zayner also analyzed speech patterns in online chat, Twitter, and books, and found that language on Twitter and online chat is closer to how people talk than to how they write.[4] Zayner found NASA's scientific work less innovative than they expected, and upon leaving in January 2016, they launched a crowdfunding campaign to provide CRISPR kits to let the general public experiment with editing bacterial DNA. Zayner also continued their grad school business, The ODIN, which sells kits to let the general public experiment at home. The company's main adviser is George Church, professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School and director of[3] As of May 2016, The ODIN had four employees and operated out of Zayner's garage.[2]

The Chromochord

Zayner self-identifies as a biohacker and believes in the importance of letting the general public participate in scientific experimentation, rather than leaving it segregated to labs.[2][5][6] Zayner found the academic biohacking community to be exclusive and hierarchical, particularly with respect to the types of people who decide what is "safe". They hope that their projects can let even more people experiment in their homes. Other scientists have responded that biohacking is inherently exclusive for its dependence on leisure time and money, and that deviance from general safety rules could lead to even harsher regulations for all.[7] Zayner's public CRISPR kit campaign coincided with wider public scrutiny over genetic modification.[8] Zayner maintained that these fears were based on misunderstandings of the product, as genetic experiments on yeast and bacteria cannot produce a viral epidemic.[9][10] In April 2015, Zayner ran a hoax on Craigslist to raise awareness about the future potential of forgery in forensic genetic testing.[11] Zayner later used CRISPR to attempt to edit their own genes and is the first known person to do so.[12][13] Zayner's CRISPR kit was displayed at the Cooper Hewitt's 2019 Nature Design Triennial.[14]

In February 2016, Zayner attempted a full body microbiome transplant on themselves, including a fecal transplant, to experiment with microbiome engineering and to see if they could treat their gastrointestinal and other health issues. The microbiome from the donor's feces successfully transplanted in Zayner's gut according to DNA sequencing done on samples.[2] This experiment was documented by filmmakers Kate McLean and Mario Furloni and turned into the short documentary film Gut Hack.[15]

In December 2016, Zayner created a fluorescent beer by engineering yeast to contain the green fluorescent protein from jellyfish. Zayner's company, The ODIN, released kits to allow people to create their own engineered fluorescent yeast, which was met with some controversy as the FDA declared that the green fluorescent protein can be seen as a color additive.[16] Zayner views the kit as a way that an individual can use genetic engineering to create new things in their everyday life.[17]

In 2019, Zayner launched a curriculum (Bioengineering 101[18] ) featuring a series of educational videos directed at those studying biotechnology for the first time. Zayner was featured in Unnatural Selection (stylized as "unnatural selection"), a TV documentary series that presents an overview of genetic engineering, which was released on Netflix in October 2019.

In 2020, Zayner, David Ishee and Dariia Dantseva, who form a group of Biohackers named The Central Dogma Collective (CDC) tested a DNA based coronavirus vaccine on themselves and live-streamed the whole process and made all protocols and data open source and freely available to the public.[19][20] The DNA vaccine expressed the SARS-CoV2 spike protein once inside human cells to elicit an immune response. They measured IgG and IgM spike protein antibody response and antibody neutralization of Spike protein RBD domain binding to the ACE2 receptor. All three individuals had an immune response and neutralization response to the vaccine.[21][22]


In the arts, Zayner's work has been featured in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art,[23] Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum,[24] Philadelphia Museum of Art[25] and others.

While at the University of Chicago Zayner created a musical instrument, the Chromochord, which stimulates light-, oxygen-, and voltage-sensing proteins and translates their reactions into music.[26][27] Together with composer Francisco Castillo Trigueros, Zayner received a grant from the university to compose music and create audio visual art installations using the work.[28] Zayner, gave a musical performance using the Chromochord at NY MoMA PS1.[29]

Zayner was a resident artist at Stochastic Labs in Berkeley, California[30] where they worked with the new media artist Lynn Hershman Leeson to create an art installation about genetic engineering, which included a booth designed by Zayner that attempted to reverse engineer a person's DNA from their picture. The installation was shown at ZKM and Deichtorhallen.[31]

Medical investigation[edit]

The California Department of Consumer Affairs informed Zayner in May 2019 of their investigation into a complaint against them for practicing medicine without a license.[32][33] By September of the same year Zayner received notice that the investigation had been concluded, and “no further action is anticipated.”[34]

Personal life[edit]

Zayner identifies as non-binary. They were formerly known as Josiah Zayner.[35]


  1. ^ "Unnatural Selection: Who is Josiah Zayner? Netflix star has some crazy experiments!". Reality Titbit. October 21, 2019. Retrieved October 21, 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d Duhaime-Ross, Arielle (May 4, 2016). "A Bitter Pill". The Verge. Retrieved June 14, 2016.
  3. ^ a b "Bay Area biohacker tells you how to edit your DNA. Does that make him a criminal?". Times-Herald. May 18, 2019. Retrieved October 21, 2019.
  4. ^ Bennett, Drake (March 14, 2014). "Twitter Is Just Like Talking, Only More Narcissistic". Retrieved June 14, 2016.
  5. ^ Chicago Tribune (January 29, 2016). "Biologist's gene-editing kit lets DIYers play God at kitchen table".
  6. ^ Nicks, Denver (January 12, 2016). "DIY Gene Editing Kit Sold for $120 by Josiah Zayner, Scientist". Archived from the original on September 28, 2021.
  7. ^ Kolbert, Elizabeth (January 8, 2021). "CRISPR and the Splice to Survive". The New Yorker. Retrieved October 3, 2021. Josiah Zayner, ... He holds a Ph.D. in biophysics and is a well-known provocateur. Among his many stunts, he has coaxed his skin to produce a fluorescent protein, ingested a friend's poop in a D.I.Y. fecal-matter transplant, and attempted to deactivate one of his genes so that he could grow bigger muscles.
  8. ^ "What Happens If Someone Uses This DIY Gene Hacking Kit to Make Mutant Bacteria?". Motherboard.
  9. ^ "Governance: Learn from DIY biologists". Nature News & Comment.
  10. ^ "A NASA Scientist Is Behind the 'My DNA Was Planted' Viral Craigslist Ad". Motherboard.
  11. ^ Pearlman, Alex (November 15, 2017). "Biohackers are using CRISPR on their DNA and we can't stop it". New Scientist. Retrieved November 16, 2017.
  12. ^ Lee, Stephanie M. (October 14, 2017). "This Biohacker Is Trying To Edit His Own DNA And Wants You To Join Him". BuzzFeed. Retrieved November 16, 2017.
  13. ^ "Object Collection". Cooper Hewitt.
  14. ^ "New York Times Op Docs: Gut Hack". New York Times.
  15. ^ "DNA Biohackers Are Giving The FDA A Headache With Glow-In-The-Dark Booze". Buzzfeed.
  16. ^ "This Biohacker Wants to Spur a Genetic Engineering Revolution With Glowing Beer". Gizmodo.
  17. ^ "The Odin Bioengineering 101". The Odin.
  18. ^ "Do-it-yourself from scientific paper to covid-19 DNA vaccine playlist". Josiah Zayner. Archived from the original on November 28, 2020.
  19. ^ Larabee, Tadhg (November 24, 2020). "Boston's Murky World of Open-Source COVID-19 Vaccine Research". Retrieved October 3, 2021. In June, biohacker Josiah Zayner recreated and self-tested a DNA plasmid vaccine that had shown promising results in animal trials, livestreaming the experiment on YouTube; by October, he had concluded that the messiness of human biology makes solo vaccine research impractical.
  20. ^ "Home-Made Covid Vaccine Appeared to Work, but Questions Remained". Bloomberg. Archived from the original on October 10, 2020.
  21. ^ "A Biohacker Gets a Wake-Up Call". October 12, 2020. Retrieved October 3, 2021.
  22. ^ Sura Wood (February 7, 2018). "California Dream Design Landscape". Bay Area Reporter.
  23. ^ "Objects Involving Josiah Zayner". Cooper Hewitt.
  24. ^ "Designs for Different Futures: BODIES". Philadelphia Museum of Modern Art.
  25. ^ Katie Drummond (September 5, 2013). "The world's smallest violin: scientist uses proteins to create a new musical instrument". The Verge. Vox Media.
  26. ^ Nona Griffin,Daniel Grushkin. "Biotech's First Musical Instrument Plays Proteins Like Piano Keys [Slide Show]". Scientific American.
  27. ^ Drew Messinger-Michaels (November 18, 2013). "Scholars probe interface between arts and science". Bay Area Reporter.
  28. ^ "Lynn Hershman Leeson Presents An Afternoon on the Future of Humanity".
  29. ^ Stochastic Labs. "Josiah Zayner Resident Artist". Stochastic Labs.
  30. ^ B. Ruby Rich (Spring 2015). "On and Off The Screen". Film Quarterly.
  31. ^ Antonio Regalado (May 15, 2019). "Celebrity biohacker Josiah Zayner is under investigation for practicing medicine without a license". MIT Tech Review.
  32. ^ Beth Mole (May 16, 2019). "Genetic self-experimenting "biohacker" under investigation by health officials". Ars Technica.
  33. ^ Brown, Kristen V (October 15, 2019). "Biohacker Investigation Is Dropped by California Medical Board". Retrieved October 21, 2019.
  34. ^ "Biohacking to Change My Gender". Biohacking the Future. June 20, 2022. Retrieved June 20, 2022.

Further reading[edit]