Tag Archives: Jennifer Doudna

CRISPR-cas9: Jennifer Doudna is a Role Model

U.S. patent judges have started hearing a case about who will hold the patent on the gene editing technology called CRISPR-cas9.

One of the main players is Dr. Jennifer Doudna, a scientist affiliated with the University of California at Berkeley.

I’ve written about Jennifer Doudna here before. She grew up in Hilo and graduated from Hilo High. What a great role model she is for our kids. We need to nurture our young people here to learn and reach for the stars (or the genes), as she has done. Not, no can. CAN!

“The stakes are enormous,” Anette Breindl, senior science editor at the trade journal BioWorld, told NPR about the patent case. She said three companies built around those patents “already have a billion dollars of investment behind them, and a fourth company has a stake in the technology that could be worth $2 billion.

From NPR’s All Things Considered:

The high-stakes fight over who invented a technology that could revolutionize medicine and agriculture heads to a courtroom Tuesday….

“This is arguably the biggest biotechnology breakthrough in the past 30 or 40 years, and controlling who owns the foundational intellectual property behind that is consequentially pretty important,” says Jacob Sherkow, a professor at the New York Law College.

The CRISPR-cas9 technology allows scientists to make precise edits in DNA, and that ability could lead to whole new medical therapies, research tools and even new crop varieties.

…On one side of the dispute are research collaborators Jennifer Doudna at the University of California, Berkeley and her European colleague Emmanuelle Charpentier (currently at the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin).

“When they filed their patent application [in 2012], they did a great job disclosing how to use CRISPR for bacteria, but were a little lighter on details about how to use CRISPR in the cells of higher organisms” such as human cells, [Jacob Sherkow, a professor at the New York Law College] says.

“Later in 2012, Feng Zhang at the Broad Institute at MIT and Harvard files his patent application that gives a pretty detailed description about how to use CRISPR in the cells of higher organisms,” Sherkow continues.

And since the most important use of the technology is its ability to edit DNA in higher organisms, the real battle is over who can claim that invention.

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Photo by Hiroshi Nishimasu, F. Ann Ran, Patrick D. Hsu, Silvana Konermann, Soraya I. Shehata, Naoshi Dohmae, Ryuichiro Ishitani, Feng Zhang, and Osamu Nureki [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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Why Jennifer Doudna Has Trouble Sleeping

In my last post, Hilo High Grad Makes Crispr ‘Discovery Of The Century,’ I wrote about the amazing Dr. Jennifer Doudna and her CRISPr gene-editing technology, which is taking the science world by storm.

I also wrote that it can be controversial. Today I want to share an article by Dr. Doudna, one of CRISPr’s discoverers. She wrote this article for Nature, the international weekly journal of science. It’s about her concerns over the philosophical and ethical ramifications of genomes that are easily-altered.

From Nature.com:

Genome-editing revolution: My whirlwind year with CRISPR, by Jennifer Doudna

22 December 2015

Some 20 months ago, I started having trouble sleeping. It had been almost two years since my colleagues and I had published a paper describing how a bacterial system called CRISPR–Cas9 could be used to engineer genomes (see ‘Based on bacteria’).

I had been astounded at how quickly labs around the world had adopted the technology for applications across biology, from modifying plants to altering butterfly-wing patterns to fine-tuning rat models of human disease. At the same time, I’d avoided thinking too much about the philosophical and ethical ramifications of widely accessible tools for altering genomes.

Questions about whether genome editing should ever be used for non-medical enhancement, for example, seemed mired in subjectivity — a long way from the evidence-based work I am comfortable with. I told myself that bioethicists were better positioned to take the lead on such issues. Like everyone else, I wanted to get on with the science made possible by the technology….

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Hilo High Grad Makes CRISPr ‘Discovery of the Century’

Are you familiar with CRISPr gene-editing technology? It’s been called the discovery of the century, but it’s not well known yet outside of science circles. From time to time I’m going to write here about what’s going on with it.

At ScienceNews.org, they talk about it this way:

Scientists usually shy away from using the word miracle — unless they’re talking about the gene-editing tool called CRISPR/Cas9. “You can do anything with CRISPR,” some say. Others just call it amazing.

An interesting fact: Dr. Jennifer Doudna, credited with discovering this technology and one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world, graduated from Hilo High.

Jennifer Doudna, CRISPr

She and a colleague “helped make one of the most monumental discoveries in biology: a relatively easy way to alter any organism’s DNA, just as a computer user can edit a word in a document,” according to The New York Times. People are saying she may get a Nobel Prize for Chemistry for it.

The New York Times article also states:

The discovery has turned Dr. Doudna (the first syllable rhymes with loud) into a celebrity of sorts, the recipient of numerous accolades and prizes. The so-called Crispr-Cas9 genome editing technique is already widely used in laboratory studies, and scientists hope it may one day help rewrite flawed genes in people, opening tremendous new possibilities for treating, even curing, diseases.

But what is it? In an article called “Everything You Need to Know About CRISPR, the New Tool that Edits DNA,” Gizmodo writes:

CRISPR, a new genome editing tool, could transform the field of biology—and a recent study on genetically-engineered human embryos has converted this promise into media hype. But scientists have been tinkering with genomes for decades. Why is CRISPR suddenly such a big deal?

The short answer is that CRISPR allows scientists to edit genomes with unprecedented precision, efficiency, and flexibility. The past few years have seen a flurry of “firsts” with CRISPR, from creating monkeys with targeted mutations to preventing HIV infection in human cells. Earlier this month, Chinese scientists announced they applied the technique to nonviable human embryos, hinting at CRISPR’s potential to cure any genetic disease. And yes, it might even lead to designer babies. (Though, as the results of that study show, it’s still far from ready for the doctor’s office.) 

In short, CRISPR is far better than older techniques for gene splicing and editing. And you know what? Scientists didn’t invent it.

CRISPR/Cas9 comes from strep bacteria…

CRISPR is actually a naturally-occurring, ancient defense mechanism found in a wide range of bacteria. As far as back the 1980s, scientists observed a strange pattern in some bacterial genomes. One DNA sequence would be repeated over and over again, with unique sequences in between the repeats. They called this odd configuration “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats,” or CRISPR.

This was all puzzling until scientists realized the unique sequences in between the repeats matched the DNA of viruses—specifically viruses that prey on bacteria. It turns out CRISPR is one part of the bacteria’s immune system, which keeps bits of dangerous viruses around so it can recognize and defend against those viruses next time they attack. The second part of the defense mechanism is a set of enzymes called Cas (CRISPR-associated proteins), which can precisely snip DNA and slice the hell out of invading viruses. Conveniently, the genes that encode for Cas are always sitting somewhere near the CRISPR sequences….

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Although the technology is not without controversy, it is a very interesting subject. It’s going to be huge. I’m following the topic and will occasionally write about it here.

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