By Rafi Letzter
A kid in France transcribed parts of the Hebrew book of Genesis and the Arabic-language Quran, into DNA and injected them into his body — one text into each thigh.
Adrien Locatelli, a 16-year-old high school student, posted a paper Dec. 3 on the preprint server OS, in which he claimed, “It is the first time that someone injects himself macromolecules developed from a text.”
Locatelli, a student at the boarding school Lycée les Eaux Claires in Grenoble, France, told Live Science that he didn’t need any special equipment for his project.
“I just needed to buy saline solution and a syringe because VectorBuilder sent me liquid and ProteoGenix sent me powder,” he told Live Science.
VectorBuilder is a company that creates viruses that can sneak DNA strands into cells for gene-editing purposes. ProteoGenix synthesizes, among other things, custom strands of DNA. Both companies primarily serve scientists, but their products are available to anyone who purchases them.
If you saw the texts that Locatelli injected into his body, they wouldn’t look like much. DNA is just a long molecule that can store information. Mostly, it stores the information living things use to go about their business. But it can be used to store just about any kind of information that can be written down.
Locatelli’s method for translating the texts into DNA was straightforward, if a bit crude. DNA encodes its information using repeating strings of four nucleotides, which scientists have abbreviated as A, G, T and C. Locatelli lined up each letter of the Hebrew and Arabic alphabets (which correspond closely to each other) with a nucleotide, so each nucleotide represented more than one letter. So if you were to write a Hebrew sentence using his scheme, every aleph, vav, yud, nun, tsade, and tav would become a G. Every dalet, khet, ayin, and resh would become a T. And so on.
So, is this a good idea? Locatelli thinks so.
“I did this experiment for the symbol of peace between religions and science,” he said, adding, “I think that for a religious person it can be good to inject himself his religious text.”
Locatelli said he didn’t experience any significant health problems following the procedure, though he reported some “minor inflammation” around the injection site on his left thigh for a few days.
This account of only minimal complications fits with what Sriram Kosuri, a professor of biochemistry at UCLA, told Live Science.
“[The injected texts] are unlikely to do anything except possibly cause an allergic reaction. I also don’t know how likely the rAAV vector would be to make actual virus, given the way he injected. I honestly don’t know enough about the vector he used and how he did it (details are scarce),” he wrote in a message.