You may have heard of the gene-editing technique CRISPR-cas9, often simply called CRISPR. Introduced in 2012, CRISPR works like a pair of scissors to cut DNA, inserting or reordering bits of genetic code with remarkable, science-fiction-like results: CRISPR can help create mosquitoes that don’t transmit malaria, or be used to breed unusually muscular beagles, or even create mini pigs. In humans, the technology is being tested to battle cancer — by removing patients’ immune cells, editing them, and reinserting the weaponized cells into the body to hunt cancer.
One of the leading scientists who developed the technique is Jennifer Doudna, a biochemist at the University of California, Berkeley. With the help of Emmanuelle Charpentier, Martin Jinek, and Krzysztof Chylinski, Doudna adapted the system that bacteria use to defeat viruses to create the much-vaunted cell-editing technique. We sat down with Doudna in October to discuss just what CRISPR might mean for the future of science, and disease research. While CRISPR marks a landmark breakthrough, the technology also presents plenty of concerns about genetic modification — some ethical, some practical — and Doudna has made a habit of stepping out from among the ranks of other scientists to discuss those concerns with the public. We talked to Doudna about the possibility of using CRISPR to combat disease, to help preserve threatened species, and how close we are to creating a real-life Jurassic Park.
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