This Teen Translated a Bible Verse Into DNA and Injected It Into Himself
Will bioengineering become the hot new teen trend?
Image: Shutterstock; Composition: Motherboard
A French high schooler has allegedly bioengineered DNA based on verses from the Bible and Quran and injected it into his own leg.
Adrien Locatelli, 16, from Grenoble, France, posted a short paper to the Open Science Framework preprint server in which he claimed to produce strands of DNA that corresponded to verses from the Bible and the Quran. According to Locatelli, he then injected the DNA containing the Bible verses into his left thigh, and the DNA with the Quranic verses into his right thigh.
“I did this experiment only for the symbol of peace between religions and science,” Locatelli told me in an email. “It’s just symbolic.”
The proteins created by Locatelli are basically just short strands of DNA, which is made of nucleotides that can only be combined in specific ways.
Previous research has shown that artificial nucleotides can be used to store data, such as the key to a Bitcoin wallet, but so far they haven’t actually been injected into a person.
Locatelli said he matched various characters in the Hebrew alphabet to the nucleotides in order to produce a strand of DNA that corresponded to the first few verses of the Book of Genesis in the Bible. In his preprint paper he said that a similar technique was used to match individual letters in Arabic to translate the Quran to genetic code.
Locatelli said he used a technique known as recombinant adeno-associated virus (rAAV) to write the Biblical genetic code into the DNA of a virus. The DNA containing the Quranic verse was injected as a protein without the viral vector.
Locatelli did not give details on how he cloned the gene into a viral vector in the paper.
According to receipts seen by Motherboard, Locatelli bought over $1,300 worth of E. coli stock and AAV2 virus from Vector Builder. Locatelli said he had no prior experience with bioengineering.
“I just did a one week internship in the Institute for Advanced Biosciences in Grenoble,” Locatelli told me. “My father is a baker and my mother is in accounting. My father agrees [with the experiment], but I did not tell my mother.”
In the preprint paper Locatelli wrote that the viral injection caused a slight inflammation in his left thigh that lasted for about a day whereas the injection of the straight protein did not produce any noticeable effects.
Locatelli’s experiment rubbed many bioengineering researchers the wrong way. Sri Kosuri, a biochemist at UCLA who pioneered the idea of using DNA for data storage, wrote in a tweet that he was alerted to Locatelli’s stunt after Google Scholar “unfortunately” alerted him that he had been cited in Locatelli’s paper.
“2018 can’t end soon enough,” Kosuri tweeted.
"Doing any human or animal experiments has risks associated with them," Kosuri told me in an email. "There are the ethics of the experiment that also must be considered."
Locatelli stood by his decision.
“I think that when people do not understand something, they are afraid of it,” he said. “Bio-engineering is something wonderful. I did not do anything dangerous. If it was so dangerous, I could not have bought these products on the internet. We will not ban knives because we can cut ourselves with them.”