io9 is proud to present fiction from LIGHTSPEED MAGAZINE. Once a month, we feature a story from Lightspeed’s current issue. This month’s selection is “The CRISPR Cookbook: A Guide to Biohacking Your Own Abortion in a Post-Roe World” by MKRNYILGLD. You can read the story below or listen to the podcast on Lightspeed’s website. Enjoy!
If you’re reading this—on some godforsaken imageboard, or dog-eared book page, or in encrypted base pairs sequenced off 3D-printed oligos—you’re probably grappling with a pretty tough decision right now.
I’m not judging you. I know how it goes. You tried your best but nothing’s infallible, or you slipped up one night, or he just straight-up went, your biological clock’s ticking, and hacked your birth control, knowing once it happens you won’t have a choice. The second his sperm enters your egg, he’s done, back to his star-studded career cranking out Science and Cell papers, and you’re stuck at home—with everything from your calories to your screen time dictated to you by Big Brother—hoping your research project will still be waiting for you after the baby pops out.
Listen: in the twenty-five years since the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe, we might’ve had our rights chipped away, little by little—but we’ve gained so much more. There’s a law of equivalent exchange that absolutely cannot be fucked with. The more protests get crushed on the streets, the more bubbles up underneath. And what’s under America is a bioreactor. A rising in every single one of the trillions of cells that make up our bodies, our chromosomes, in every single one of our tens of thousands of genes. They said you don’t have a choice, but, by reading this, you’re making one.
You’re taking back your DNA.
- Pipettes. Own ten assault rifles and the cops won’t blink twice, but let the DHB catch you with these you’ll wind up in a re-ed camp faster than you can say “homemade vole-pox.” Luckily, plenty of these puppies got dumped into circulation before the Homeland Biosecurity Act of 2030. Scour your local community groups for a helix motif, woven into baskets or crocheted into scarves. Tell the father, sweetly, that you’re going to pick up some organics for dinner. If your pregnancy officer makes a fuss, tell him you’ll bike over, the fresh air will be good for the baby. You’re looking for a certain kind of stall, one that’s cropped up at farmers’ markets all across the nation. Their heirloom tomatoes will be slightly out of season, but still firework-bright. Their ears of corn will be popping with kernels of color you’ve never seen anywhere else. And perhaps the cat sitting in the shade will have a bit of a bioluminescent glow. Strike up a conversation with the vendor, say something like, Now that I’ve got months and months stuck at home, I’ve been thinking of experimenting with my garden too. And then you’ll be in.
- Chemically competent cells, ideally RecA negative, at least six vials. The co-op you’ve made contact with will set you up with their microorganism dealer. Don’t fall for the sketchy types that’ll try to peddle you a virus they claim will solve your “problem” directly. You don’t want to become patient zero for the latest MERS-Marburg superspreader cocktail. You might think you’re fighting back. But you’ll just end up becoming a carrier for someone else.
- The plastics. AKA the disposables you need for everything you do in the lab: the pipette tips, the plates, the columns for DNA purification. The co-op will have some kind of 3D printer you can negotiate time on. It shouldn’t be difficult. These groups always need extra pairs of hands. You might find yourself caring for someone else’s cells or setting up PCR reactions or doing any other kind of grunt lab work. There’s no hierarchy here. Just a one-to-one exchange, hours for hours so everyone can be home on time to be the loving spouse. You might be helping someone produce insulin, or chemotherapy drugs, or hormones. No one asks so no one can be forced to talk, but in the case of a DHB bust you’re all getting shipped off to a re-ed camp, anyway. Who says the spirit of scientific collaboration is dead?
- Transfection reagent. This is the stuff you’ll need to actually get your construct into your cells. Essentially positively-charged lipid particles that will help carry your payload through your cell membranes. Luckily, this shit is absolutely everywhere now that all our vaccines are nucleic acid-based. Find a sympathetic pharmacist and pay her under the table for some castoffs. Crack the bottles open. You’re going to need a few milliliters.
- A CRISPR vector. I’m not talking about the first generation, straight-laced, Nobel-winning CRISPR/Cas9—or the off-the-walls, hyperactive, second generation Cas15-11. You need a third generation construct, the kind the DHB will break down your door in the middle of the night for if they catch wind of it. I’m talking synCas-X. It’s integral for all kinds of biological research now, but the feds slapped a Class Five Teratogen label on it, making it illegal for anyone at risk of getting pregnant to touch. Luckily, no one in the co-op’s going to tell you what you can and can’t “grow.” By now you should’ve gained enough trust to get some time on the DNA printer (a pre-2030 model, or one that’s jailbroken to get around the lentiviral sequence filters). You’ll synthesize it block by block. Meanwhile, you’re bringing home plenty of vegetables, making ratatouille, marinara sauce, healthy fresh meals night after night. Harvesting crops, you’ll tell your pregnancy officer when he asks about the farm you’re spending so much time on. Potluck clubs with the girls. You’ll make him fried squash blossoms, better than any of the crap he gets in the mess hall, and he won’t suspect a thing. And when you finally get those microliters of vector, you’ll hold it up to the light. You’ll marvel that synCas-X can look like nothing at all.
It’s actually very simple. What you’re going to do is hack your immune system. Think about it. What’s the immune system’s job? It detects foreign, or non-self, cells and destroys them. But it doesn’t always succeed. One of immunology’s biggest mysteries was how an embryo can develop without triggering the mother’s immune system. I say was, because in 2037, scientists finally figured it out. Like many biologists who solved something big, they were working in another field entirely, without even realizing the significance of their findings.
Cancer is another blind spot of the immune system. In part because tumor cells share so much DNA with their host—they are their host, plus a scattering of cancerous mutations. Scientists had reasoned for decades that they could tweak the immune system to go after those little variations. They tried combinations on combinations of gene deletions, tweaks, duplications, charged patients millions for the hope of personalized medicines. But they could never get it to work. Even their souped-up immune cells weren’t sensitive enough. Models predicted that 40% of a tumor’s genome would have to differ from the host’s as much as another person’s does in order for the treatment to work.
Do you see where I’m going with this? What contains even more non-self DNA than a tumor? What gets 50% of its DNA from another individual entirely? An individual who’s taken to coming home and wrapping his arms around you, hands on your stomach, after a hard day’s work—whispering in your ear about how he knows how hard it’s been for you, but he just has to get this faculty position, then he’ll be there for you and the baby 100%, he’ll make it up to you, he’s asking for a small lab for you to run, attached to his own. And have you started thinking of names for your son?
- Design guide RNAs to knock out the following immune checkpoint genes: PDCD1, CD274, CTLA4, TIGIT, LAG3, and their little friend FAM594B. You know the drill: Put them as early in the first exon after the start codon as possible, with BbsI restriction sites at the ends. Print the oligos out, anneal them in a water bath brought to boil and cooled, and clone them into your CRISPR vector. It’s normal to have failed reactions, especially on hot nights. Does it remind you of your first research internship, all the flies buzzing around? Wipe your tears and push through.
- Transform your vectors into your chemically competent bacteria. Grow up two liters under selection and purify using a standard maxi-prep kit. Tell your pregnancy officer you’re babysitting late for a friend, learning everything you can in preparation. You have to move quick. You don’t want this to take more than a few weeks.
- Draw ten milliliters of your blood. Pipette five milliliters on top of five milliliters of your favorite density gradient. Spin it down at 500g for one hour at room temperature. You want the peripheral blood mononuclear cell layer. It’s the cloudy layer right under the layer of plasma. If you’re having trouble pipetting it out, ask for help. The co-op gets it—the single moms in kerchiefs, the teen runaways showing their hair loss proud. Isolating T-cells is a standard protocol for homebrew cancer therapies.
- Transfer the PBMCs to a 3D-printed 10 cm plate. Incubate for one hour. This will separate the monocytes, which should stick to the plate bottom, from the lymphocytes, which include your T-cells (along with B-cells, which are a pain to separate, so it’s fine if they come along too). If nothing or everything is sticking, something’s probably wrong with your 3D printer filament. Trash the plate and try again.
- The next day, your lymphocytes will be ready for transfection. Mix the CRISPR construct purified from your competent cells with your vaccine lipid particles. Incubate for half an hour and pipette on top of your lymphocytes. Incubate for forty-eight hours and replace with fresh media. Let them grow for four more days. This is the easy part.
- Harvest your lymphocytes and deliver them back into your bloodstream via intravenous infusion. Now’s the time to check out your co-op’s book or knitting club. It’s what it sounds like, except everyone hooks up their homebrew chemo or antiviral IV bags before settling in for the afternoon. You’ll feel like shit.
- Get yourself sick. Now’s the time to grab yourself a weak version of SARS-Cov, courtesy of your micro-dealer. It’ll help activate your immune system and help you avoid suspicion. Doctors still haven’t figured out the long term impacts of Cov-19, so pretty much any symptom you want to pin on it works.
- Your new T-cells are incredibly efficient. Even an embryo at the one-cell stage will be detected. It will be over in a day or two.
I’m not going to tell you the procedure leaves no traces at all. Like any surgery, it leaves scars. Not on your body, but your genome. Not on an individual, but the entire human race. Your body will no longer be able to host any cells with non-self DNA. That means no tumors, but also no grafts, no organ transplants, and YOU WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO GET PREGNANT AGAIN.
Still reading? I thought so. There’s a reason our country’s birth rate has been plummeting worse than the stock market, year after year.
What does it say when we would rather choose sterility than abide by our country’s laws? That we would rather give up on having children than be forced to birth one? What does it say when our country’s best scientists are trying to develop artificial wombs, trying to develop tools to tear apart genomes and undo what we’ve done rather than address the reason we did it to ourselves in the first place?
The Department of Homeland Biosecurity thinks they know the reason: We’re crazy bitches. They laughed when this protocol first started circulating online, reasoning the only ones who’d do it were the kind of psychos that shouldn’t be reproducing anyway. Undesirables sterilizing themselves, what a win! Then the tides started turning. More and more of us looked at the world burning, more and more of us looked at their sons, the next-gen of DHB men—and instead of reproducing, we picked up pipettes.
Now we’re bioterrorists radicalizing the birthing population, enemies of the State who want to eliminate the proud, American race. How could we be so treasonous? How could we be so unnatural?
What a word, unnatural. You only have to look at Nature herself to understand. When an organism becomes sick, sometimes it can’t get better on its own. Sometimes the very systems that are supposed to patrol the body, eliminating that sickness, ignore it and let it perpetuate instead. In that case, it’s up to the individual cells making up that organism to act on their own. Sometimes when a cell becomes infected, so full of pathogens it can no longer function, it chooses to commit a process called apoptosis. It destroys itself so the rest of the body can become healthy. But that’s an overly simplistic view. Apoptosis has evolved over millions of years into a process integral to development itself. It’s how the webbed paws of our embryos develop into fingers, how our blood vessels are guided, how extraneous neurons shape the mature circuitry of the human brain. It’s the exact opposite of suicide.
This protocol? It’s old news. Like I said, the reversal of Roe was just the beginning. We figured out how to manipulate our genomes out of necessity—and now we’re doing it for all kinds of reasons. You want to keep this pregnancy after reading this? Cool. But maybe you’re interested in something else now. You want to alter your baby’s genome so it’s not biologically related to your sperm donor? You want face mods to fool the cams? You want claws? It’s possible. It’s all possible. DNA is our blueprint, and now it’s fully customizable. In every. Single. Way.
We’re the apoptosis shaping the development of our species. Before us, humanity’s genetic diversity came from reproduction. But what happens when we don’t need that step anymore? What will we become? What are we becoming? You want to see? You want to teach someone? You don’t believe me? Keep reading.
This is only chapter one.
MKRNYILGLD is a biologist who can give birth. Twitter: @MKRNYILGLD.
Please visit LIGHTSPEED MAGAZINE to read more great science fiction and fantasy. This story first appeared in the September 2022 issue, which also features work by Jenny Rae Rappaport, Kristina Ten, Dominque Dickey, Cody Goodfellow, R J Theodore, Martin Cahill, Karl Schroeder, and more. You can wait for this month’s contents to be serialized online, or you can buy the whole issue right now in convenient ebook format for just $3.99, or subscribe to the ebook edition via this link.
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