The cool new DIY science movement that's changing everything from animals to agriculture.

"We're all here because we want to be the first humans able to fly."

"And we also want to live forever, see through walls, and shoot lasers from our eyeballs," the Ukrainian scientist tells me with a totally straight face. "But that's all science-fiction nonsense for now. So in the meantime, we're just making yogurt with an anti-aging protein, and things like that."


That must be Stamos' secret. GIF from Dannon Oikos/YouTube.

We're standing in the attic of a bicycle repair shop in Somerville, Massachusetts, where a group of local scientists and curious hobbyists have built a do-it-yourself laboratory for homegrown biology experiments.

The space is strewn with secondhand equipment, all scavenged and salvaged from the dumpsters of nearby universities and major pharmaceutical companies. Someone even found a way to use a breast pump to filter out bacteria samples. Yeah.

But as wild as this all may sound, it's hardly the most remarkable thing to come out of the life science revolution that's sweeping across the world.

"I cannot believe my eyes!" — Me, when I saw this stuff. GIF from "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog."

Recent advancements in biotech have made it easier than ever to manipulate and edit DNA with shocking accuracy.

At the forefront of this biological renaissance is a little thing scientists call CRISPR-Cas9, often shortened to just plain ol' CRISPR. It's a system that we pretty much stole from certain bacteria that uses enzymes and something called guide RNA to target and cut sequences of DNA.

But that's all kinds of confusing for non-science-y types, so think of it like this: DNA is full of information that tells a story, like a book. Previously, if we wanted to change any part of this DNA-book, we had to chop up random sections with our metaphorical scissors, or splash white-out on the pages, trying to scribble in new notes wherever we could. Sure, it got the job done sometimes. But it was also pretty messy and inefficient.

The CRISPR system offers a new kind of "find-and-replace" feature. Now we can take our DNA-book and say, "OK, CRISPR, please find that sentence that specifically says, 'Harry met Hagrid.'" Then we can tell it to cut out that particular sentence and either get rid of it entirely or add our own new, much cooler sentence in its place. (Like "Harry met Hagrid and then they high-fived and it was so epic that they destroyed Voldemort and everyone was awesome.")

Got that?

TL;DR: Everything is awesome with CRISPR. GIF from "The LEGO Movie."

Now imagine that instead of just rewriting their own derivative Harry Potter fanfic, scientists can use this "find-and-replace" feature to turn specific genes "on" or "off," or even add new sequences of base pairs into the genome. This makes it easier than ever to go in and splice, add, or change one little piece of genetic information and see what happens.

"It's like a toolkit, essentially," explained Joanne Kamens, executive director of Addgene. "It's like having just the right screwdriver we never had, and it's allowing scientists to create hundreds of new tools and making everything exponentially faster."

A much-more useful CRISPR explainer video. GIF from Desktop Genetics/YouTube.

This kind of super-accurate gene editing — and genetic synthesis in general — have become more accessible in the past few years.

CRISPR might be the prom queen of the biggest labs, but there are other similar versions of this kind of precision gene-editing technology — like the methods that my Ukrainian friend was using in that attic. And these tools are collectively changing the world as we know it, in attics and labs all over the world.

Let's go down the DNA rabbit hole... GIF from McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT/YouTube.

Here are five of the most fascinating inventions and discoveries we've seen in biotech to date:

1. Gene editing could help us limit, or maybe even destroy, diseases like malaria and cancer.

Now that we can slice into DNA with alarming accuracy, we can target exactly where diseases exist in the body and how drugs get delivered to kill those diseases. It's like a microbiological version of "Mission: Impossible" when you're trying to defuse a bomb — gene editing tells you exactly which wire to cut, without the risk of blowing up the building (which in this case is a human body).

Scientists at the University of California San Francisco, for example, have found a way to turn human T cells into hyper-efficient disease-killing machines. Similarly, at Temple University, researchers are using CRISPR to literally cut HIV out of live subjects. Pretty neat, huh?

As for those pesky mosquito-born illnesses plaguing our warming world, CRISPR has already made it easier to identify diseases such as Zika, malaria, and West Nile in patients and hosts alike — and some scientists hope to use gene editing to remove the disease-carrying capability from the mosquito genome entirely, destroying them at the source.

EXACTLY. GIF from "Adventure Time."

2. This same application is revolutionizing how we study mental health, too.

Scientists at MIT have already used gene editing to create lab mice with autism and OCD so they can better understand what causes those conditions and how best to treat them.

If they can create those conditions, they might be able to un-create them, too, by essentially flipping a switch on the problematic genes. (The only trick is figuring out with certainty which specific genes out of the billions in our body are causing the problems, which is easier said than done.)

I know, Krang. It's pretty mind-blowing. GIF from "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles."

3. It could also help us bring back the wooly mammoth or any other number of crazy chimera breeds.

Yup: Scientists at Harvard University successfully spliced wooly mammoth DNA into elephant cells. This is just on a cellular level so far, mind you; no one's prepared to go all "Jurassic Park" without looking into all the potential ramifications of such a project.

But, I mean, you knew this was coming, right? As cool and generally comforting as these other remarkable projects have been, we're still talking about genetic engineering, so of course there'd be some kind of super-powered kaiju-animal hybrids in the cards.

In China, scientists have already used CRISPR to breed dogs with twice the muscle mass by simply deleting one gene from their DNA. And in Boston, they've found a way to modify pig organs to make them compatible with human bodies in need of transplant donors.

And if you're wondering about the practical applications and ethical justifications of these kinds of projects, well ... those are totally valid things to be concerned about. But scientists are actively engaged in those discussions, and if it makes you feel any better, we're probably still a long way away from creating fully customizable mature synthetic humans. Probably.


My thoughts exactly, Doc Brown. GIF from "Back to the Future."

4. Gene editing could also help to revamp the entire agriculture industry — without the use of any off-putting genetic additives.

GMOs get a bad wrap. But gene editing is different from, say, adding a bit of flounder DNA into a tomato, which is why the FDA recently approved the first CRISPR-modified mushroom for human consumption.

These specially designed mushrooms have a greater resistance to browning — again, not because of any scary-sounding chemicals or foreign genes, but simply because biologists found a way to isolate and shut off the naturally occurring genes that caused the mushrooms to turn brown after you cut into them.

That's it. Really. Nothing scary about it.

Naturally occurring mushroom-hat parachutes are still in the early developmental stages. GIF from "Super Mario Bros. Super Show."

This method is also working to create disease-resistant plants, which is how a team at Seoul National University is trying to save the banana. Because why bother introducing pesticides or foreign genetic material when you can just poke at the DNA that the plant already has to improve its nutrient content and help it survive under less-than-ideal conditions? It's not quite "natural" in the traditional sense, but it's also not so different from the exchange and selective breeding of crops that's been going on for centuries.

Just, ya know — easier, and cooler-sounding.

So that's what Beaker's been meeping about all these years! GIF from "The Muppet Show."

5. But perhaps most importantly, gene editing is lowering the bar for scientific research and making it accessible to everyone.

Until recently, a lot of genetic and biotech data was protected behind intellectual property laws and institutional restrictions. But now? Anyone can buy an all-in-one CRISPR starter kit online or order a plasmid straight from a place like Addgene for a mere $65 and see what they can do with it ... just like those guys in the Somerville attic.

"It's like designing apps" for smartphones, said DeskGen's A.J. Ajetunmobi. DeskGen is a biotech startup that offers free open-source desktop gene-editing software, allowing anyone to design an experiment from anywhere in the world.

"People can focus on fixing problems instead of learning how to code," he said. "In life sciences, we're still stuck teaching people how to code. It's hard to teach that and still keep minds open."

GIF from "Dexter's Laboratory."

"Diversity of perspective makes everything better. People are so much more innovative when they're not coming at it from a specific overhead," Ajetunmobi added.

The possibilities for progress are endless as long as the opportunities are available to everyone — not just the pharmaceutical companies who can afford to pay millions for special equipment and data.

"The barriers to entry [in biotech] are significant," Ajetunmobi told me with an eyeroll and a laugh, before pointing out that it would be logistically difficult for an individual — say, a 30-year-old writer who is me — to obtain all the necessary plasmids and parts to breed a personal army of altruistic disease-resistant pig-human hybrid super-farmers with laser vision and flight capabilities.

"But now, there's nothing technically stopping anyone from experimenting and exploring."

Maybe you, too, can create your own web-shooters! ... Maybe. GIF from "The Amazing Spider-Man."

Personally, I decided to keep it simple and stick with the DIY bioluminescent yeast starter kit.

I'll leave the cool sci-fi-sounding progress to the pros (or to my new friends trying to find the fountain of youth in yogurt). But it's still nice to know that the opportunity is out there for anyone eager enough to give it a try.

Who knows? Maybe that 14-year-old kid next door will find a way to make pigs fly sooner than we think.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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The battle between millennials and older generations isn't exactly a generational war—it's more a case of mistaken generational identity. A decade ago, whining about millennials being young adults unprepared to make their way in the world at least made sense mathematically. But when people bag on millennials now they end up looking rather foolish.

A marketing researcher with a doctorate in social psychology wrote an op-ed for the Chicago Tribune titled "Post-pandemic, some millennials finally decide to start #adulting." And when the Tribune shared it to Twitter, their since-deleted tweet read, "Writer Jennifer Rosner predicts COVID-10 lockdowns will force easy-breezy millennials to grow up."

Hoo boy.

Interestingly, the writer of the op-ed is a millennial herself, but she repeats generalizations about her entire generation that seem like they mainly apply to her own social circle. Read it yourself to decide, but regardless, the tweet of the op-ed itself set off a firestorm of responses from millennials who are tired of being painted as irresponsible young people who don't know how to "adult" instead of what they actually are.

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2020 was difficult (to say the least). The year was full of life changes, losses, and lessons as we learned to navigate the "new normal." You may have questions about what the changes and challenges of 2020 mean for your taxes. That's where TurboTax Live comes in, making it easy to connect with real tax experts to help with your taxes – or even do them for you, start to finish.

Not only has TurboTax Live helped millions of people get their taxes done right, but this year they've also celebrated people who uplifted their communities during a difficult time by surprising them with "little lifts" to help out even more.

Here are a few of their stories:


Julz, hairdresser and salon owner

"As a hairdresser and salon owner, 2020 was extremely challenging," says Julz. "Being a hairdresser has historically been a recession-proof industry, but we've never faced global shut down due to health risk, or pandemic, not in my lifetime. And for the first time, hairdressers didn't have job security."

Julz had to shut down her salon and go on unemployment benefits for the first time. She also had to figure out how she was going to support herself, her staff and her business during this difficult time. But many other beauty industry professionals didn't have access to the resources they needed, so Julz decided to help.

"My business partner and I began teaching basic financial literacy to other beauty industry professionals," she says. "Transitioning our business from behind the chair to an online academy was a challenge we tackled head-on so that we could move hairdressers into this new space of education, and create a more accessible curriculum to better serve our industry.

Julz connected with a TurboTax Live expert who helped her understand how unemployment affected her taxes and gave her guidance on filing quarterly estimated taxes for her small business. "I was terrified to sit at a computer and tackle this mess of receipts," Julz says, so "it was great to have some virtual handholding to walk me through each question."

In addition to giving Julz the personalized tax advice she needed, TurboTax Live surprised her with a "little lift" that empowered her to help even more beauty professionals. "When my tax expert Diana surprised me with a little lift, I was moved to tears," says Julz. "With that little lift, I was able to establish a scholarship fund to help get other hairdressers the education they deserve."


Alana, new mom

Alana welcomed her first child in 2020. "I think my biggest challenge was figuring out how to be a mom, with no guidance," she says. "My original plan was to have my mom by my side, teaching me the ropes, but because of COVID, she wasn't able to come out here."

She was also without a job for most of 2020 and struggled to find something new.

So, Alana took it as a sign: she decided to launch her own business so she could support her new baby, and that's exactly what she did. She started a feel-good company that specializes in creating affirmation card decks — and she's currently in the process of starting a second, video-editing business.

TurboTax Live answered Alana's questions about her taxes and gave her some much-needed advice as she prepared to launch her businesses. Thanks to their "little lift," they provided her with a little emotional support too.

"I got my mom a plane ticket to finally [have her] meet [my daughter] for her first birthday," Alana says. "I was also able to get a new computer," which helped her invest in her new business and work on her video editing skills. "It's helped my family and me so much," she says.


Michael, science teacher

When schools shut down across the country last year, Michael had to learn how to adapt to a virtual classroom.

"As a teacher, I had to completely revamp everything," he says, so that he could keep his students engaged while teaching online. "At the beginning, it was a nightmare because I had no idea. I had to go from A-Z within a couple of weeks."

Michael's TurboTax Live expert answered his questions about how working from home affected his taxes and helped him uncover surprising tax deductions. To top it all off, his expert surprised him with brand new science equipment and supplies, which allowed him to create an entire line of classes on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook. "Now I can truly potentially reach millions of children with my lessons," he says. "I would never have taken that leap if not for the little lift from TurboTax Live."



Ricky, motivational youth speaker

As a motivational speaker, Ricky was used to doing his job in person, but, he says, "when COVID-19 hit, it altered my ability to travel and visit schools in person [because] schools moved to fully virtual or hybrid models."

He knew he had to pivot — so he began offering small virtual group workshops for student leadership groups at middle and high schools.

"This allowed me to work with student leaders to plan how they would continue making a positive impact on their school community," he says. He wasn't sure how being remote would affect his taxes, but TurboTax Live Self-Employed gave him the advice and answers that he needed to keep more money in his pocket at tax time — and the little lift he received from them has helped him serve even more students.

"[It] has been a major blessing," he says "There will be multiple schools and student groups from across the country that I can hold leadership workshops with to empower them with the tools to be inspirational leaders in their school, community, and world."

Plus, he says, it was great knowing he had an expert to help him figure out how being remote affected his taxes. "I felt confident and assured in the process of filing my taxes knowing I had an expert working with me, says Ricky. "There were things my expert knew that I would not have considered when filing on my own."

Filing your taxes doesn't have to be intimidating, especially after a year like 2020. TurboTax Live experts can give you the "little lift" you need to get your taxes done. File with the help of an expert or let an expert file for you! Go to TurboTax Live to get started.