The Gene Editing Revolution with Jennifer Doudna
I had been told that girls don’t do science. And fortunately, I ignored that.
An intrepid biochemist reckons with the monumental implications of her most provocative discovery to date: a deceptively simple, yet startlingly powerful method to rewrite the very blueprints of life. This isn’t just any scientific breakthrough, but a tool that promises unparalleled control over DNA – the core of existence – teetering on the brink between amazing potential and great danger.
This technique, known as CRISPR, emerged not as a quiet ripple in the scientific community, but as a tidal wave of concern among its very pioneers, reminiscent of the trepidation that shadowed the advent of the atomic bomb. In 2015, biochemist Jennifer Doudna stepped forward to issue a moratorium on using CRISPR for human embryonic edits that pass on to future generations. This revolutionary technology, lauded for its simplicity and efficacy, harbours the capacity to cure intractable diseases and could be the answer to famine. Yet, it brings with it the perilous possibility of irreversible genetic ripple effects and the contentious debate over the ethics of heritable changes in humans.
Presented by Sydney Opera House, BQI, Sydney Writers' Festival, and UNSW Sydney.
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Jennifer DoudnaFounder & Chair of the IGI Governance Board
Dr Jennifer A. Doudna is the Li Ka Shing Chancellor’s Chair and a Professor in the Departments of Chemistry and of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California, Berkeley. Her groundbreaking development of CRISPR-Cas9 as a genome-engineering technology, with collaborator Emmanuelle Charpentier, earned the two the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry and forever changed the course of human and agricultural genomics research.
This powerful technology enables scientists to change DNA – the code of life – with a precision only dreamed of just a few years ago. Labs worldwide have re-directed the course of their research programs to incorporate this new tool, creating a CRISPR revolution with huge implications across biology and medicine.
In addition to her scientific achievements, Doudna is a leader in public discussion of the ethical implications of genome editing for human biology and societies, and advocates for thoughtful approaches to the development of policies around the safe use of CRISPR technology.
Doudna is an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, senior investigator at Gladstone Institutes, and the founder of the Innovative Genomics Institute. She co-founded and serves on the advisory panel of several companies that use CRISPR technology in unique ways.
She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine, the National Academy of Inventors, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Doudna is also a Foreign Member of the Royal Society, a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, and has received numerous other honours including the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences (2015), the Japan Prize (2016), Kavli Prize (2018), the LUI Che Woo Welfare Betterment Prize (2019), and the Wolf Prize in Medicine (2020). Doudna’s work led TIME to recognize her as one of the “100 Most Influential People” in 2015 and a runner-up for “Person of the Year” in 2016. She is the co-author of A Crack in Creation, a personal account of her research and the societal and ethical implications of gene editing.
Professor Merlin Crossley (Introduction)
Merlin Crossley is Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic Quality) at UNSW Sydney and a Professor of Molecular Biology. He has experience leading both Education and Research portfolios, served as Dean of Science and in several Deputy Vice-Chancellor roles at UNSW. He is an enthusiastic science communicator, Chair of the Editorial Board of The Conversation, of UNSW Press, Deputy Director of the Australian Science Media Centre, a member of the Editorial Board of BioEssays, and an Honorary Associate of the Australian Museum. His lab works on CRISPR gene editing to treat inherited blood disorders. He has been recognized by multiple awards, including a Rhodes Scholarship, the 2020 NSW Premier’s Award for Medical Biological Science, the 2021 Lemberg Medal from the Australian Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. In 2021 a new species of iridescent butterfly bobtail squid was named in his honour – Iridoteuthis merlini – Merlin’s bobtail squid.