Have you ever heard of CRISPR? Basically the next generation of science as we know it, the ability to accurately edit DNA. Welllllll, meet the woman behind it.
Jennifer Anne Doudna is a Professor of Chemistry and of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California, Berkeley. While getting her Ph.D in Biochemistry, she worked on splicing and reengineering a certain ribozyme (basically a type of RNA that can imfluence reactions within the cell). Because much of molecular biology and biochemistry is so microscopic, and takes place in a tube, it is often hard to visualize exactly what is happening. Doudna figured out a way to crystallize the ribozymes into a 3-Dimenstional structure, and later on, she was able to further solve the folded RNA structure of the ribozyme. Basically, Doudna and her team were able to figure out exactly what the ribozyme molecule looked like.
t was in 2012, however, that a team at UC Berkeley, composed of Doudna and another mother of science, Emmanuelle Charpentier, made a revolutionary discovery that would change the world of DNA editing. They figured out that a protein found in the immune system of Streptococcus species (cas9 protein) can work like a scissors, identify virus DNA, and simply snip it out of the cell. This protein could significantly reduce the time and accuracy needed for DNA editing, giving scientists and medical professionals the ability to engineer DNA and cure the incurable.
Very recently, a public patent dispute has been taking place over the CRISPR technology. On one side was Doudna’s team at UC Berkeley, while on the other side was a team from the Broad Institute. The UC Berkeley team filed a patent interference on the Broad Institute’s patent application. Even though Doudna’s team had been the first to discover this technology and its applications, the team at Broad had gone a step further, and figured out a way to actually use CRISPR in eukaryotic cells in a way that would work. The US patent office officially ruled that the Broad Institute’s work was different from that of UC Berkeley, and allowed the application to proceed. UC Berkeley then appealed this decision.
Doudna has received many honours and awards throughout her career, including the 2014 Lurie Prize in Biomedical Sciences, Dr. Paul Janssen Award for Biomedical Research and Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences and the 2015 Gruber Prize in Genetics. (last three shared with Charpentier). The two were also named among Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world in 2015. She was a Searle Scholar and received a 1996 Beckman Young Investigators Award and in 2002, she was elected to the National Academy of Sciences. She gave a 2015 TED talk on the importance of bioethics with the revolution of technology such as CRISPR.
Jennifer Doudna remains a mother of science as she was the first to unearth what could potentially be the face of medicine in the future. And because this mother of science is still with us, we wait excitedly to find out what else she will continue to discover.