Here you can read a selection of notable comments about the landmark paper on in vivo genome-editing published in the New England Journal of Medicineon 26 June. The trial, conducted in the UK and New Zealand, produced the first-ever clinical data supporting the safety and efficacy of intravenous infusion of a single-dose CRISPR treatment. The treatment, developed by two US-based companies (Intellia Therapeutics and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals) targets a rare and fatal condition called transthyretin amyloidosis.
Jennifer Doudna (CRISPR co-inventor and co-founder of Intellia): “It’s a critical first step in being able to inactivate, repair, or replace any gene that causes disease, anywhere in the body” (source Science).
Soon after co-discovering the double helix, Francis Crick coined the term “central dogma of biology” to illustrate the flow of genetic information within biological systems. The basic idea is simple: DNA is the king of the cell, proteins are its major workforce, and RNA is a sort of a middle manager. He later admitted that dogma was a poor word choice for a rule that has exceptions. Indeed, he became one of the proponents of the RNA world hypothesis, where RNA is the primordial substance in the evolutionary history of life on Earth. We can only guess what the great British scientist might say about RNA taking the stage today.
They are two of only seven women who have won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. At the Spark 2021 conference, they chatted about ethics, being women in science, the future of research, and much more. Frances Arnold was the interviewer and Jennifer Doudna the interviewee. The following is an extract of their conversation, dealing with the challenge of starting companies while running a top academic lab.
What’s unique about this book are the insights into the relationships between the main characters of the CRISPR saga. The loyal friendship linking Jennifer Doudna and George Church. The growing distrust between Doudna and Zhang. Doudna’s sorrow that she and Charpentier have drifted apart, personally as well as scientifically. The last point is indeed a melancholic note in the Nobel-ending tale. Why did their friendship fall apart?
After reading about the 2016 Canada Gairdner Awards in the book by Kevin Davies, I rushed online to listen to the walk-up music chosen by the CRISPR pioneers as they head to the stage to accept their award. Then I cut and pasted their songs and dance moves. So enjoy Jennifer Doudna dancing On the sunny side of the street, Rodolphe Barrangou pirouetting at the rhythm of Happy, Philippe Horvath going wild with Mission Impossible. And guess which is the song selected by Emmanuelle Charpentier? No spoiler, but the lyrics added at the end truly suits the CRISPR technological (r)evolution!
Doudna’s creature (Mammoth Biosciences) and Zhang’s company (Sherlock Biosciences) are developing CRISPR-based coronavirus tests similar to a home pregnancy test: portable, cheap, fast, and simple. Both will be easily adapted to detect any new emerging virus. Both received emergency use authorizations in the US in the fall of 2020 and hope to enter the market by the end of 2021. According to this piece by Walter Isaacson, competition is hot but all the intellectual property questions have been put aside for common good.
Here you can watch le Nobel Lectures by Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna. Emmanuelle is very focused and très, très chic, oui. Jennifer is generous with credits to colleagues and willing to represent the public conscience of genomic editing. The thing I liked most is the reference to CRISPR-Casɸ: a hypercompact genome editor found in huge phages. Probably it evolved to target the genes of competing phages inside bacterial hosts.
Traditionally the Nobel Laureates travel to Stockholm to receive their prizes. This year the prizes are coming to them. On 7 December, 19.00 CET, the diploma and medal will be presented to Emmanuelle Charpentier at the Swedish Ambassador’s Residence in Berlin. On 8 December, 16.00 PST, it’s Jennifer Doudna’s turn at the Residence of Barbro Osher, Honorary Consul General in San Francisco. Also on 8 December, 11-13 CET, we can watch online the Academy’s official Nobel Lectures 2020: For the development of a method for genome editing, by Emmanuelle Charpentier, and The Chemistry of CRISPR: Editing the Code of Life, by Jennifer A. Doudna. Full programme here.
The Nobel Prize for CRISPR is one of the most exciting ever assigned in chemistry and one of the most celebrated in the media, for reasons related to the invention and the inventors alike. On the one hand, the technique is changing the practice and the image of genetic engineering. On the other hand, Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier are not merely great scientists; they are a success story in cracking the glass ceiling and a symbol of the strength of collaboration.