The Renegade Biohackers Testing COVID Vaccines on Themselves

The new documentary “Citizen Bio” examines the underground DIY subculture of biohacking, wherein modern-day mad scientists splice and dice DNA to find the next big cure.

When one thinks about scientific study, the images that spring to mind generally involve studious men and women in lab coats performing careful research in sterile environments. Those notions don’t pertain to biohackers, however, who carry out cutting-edge—and often legally and morally dubious—DIY experiments on themselves and others in the name of pushing the boundaries of what’s technologically possible. They’re punk rock dreamers dedicated to figuring out tomorrow’s evolutionary breakthroughs and cures today.

Take, for example, Josiah Zayner, a former NASA scientist who made waves in 2017 when, on a livestream at a San Francisco biotech conference, he injected himself in the arm with the gene-editing tool CRISPR as a means of increasing the size of his muscles. Earlier this year, Zayner decided to help the American scientific community in its race for a COVID-19 cure by personally taking a potential DNA vaccine that was first discussed in a Harvard University paper, and had only been tested on monkeys. The results were underwhelming, but the attitude behind the trial was pure rebel biohacker boldness—and is emblematic of a community that views the coronavirus as an ideal opportunity to research, test, and show the world that taking scientific measures into your own hands is the key to progress.