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What I Just Learned From a Discussion With Nobel Laureate Jennifer Doudna

Today I attended a fascinating discussion of the movie Human Nature, a documentary on CRISPR gene editing. Nobel Prize winner Jennifer Doudna, the co-inventor of CRISPR, gave us her perspective on the technology. Author Walter Isaacson and the filmmaker, Adam Bolt, also gave valuable insights.

Isaacson framed the moment well, saying that CRISPR is part of the 3rd great scientific revolution. The first was in the first half of the 20th century, in physics. The 2nd, in information technology, consumed the second half of the century. And in the 21st century, the revolution is and will be in the life sciences.

Because CRISPR can make DNA and RNA programmable like computer code, there’s a strong parallel between CRISPR and the IT revolution. What if biology and medicine progressed the way software has in the last few decades?

Doudna is particularly excited about the applications of CRISPR to cure cancer. CRISPR can be used to program the patient’s immune cells to attack tumors. This echoes what the co-founders of BioNTech said earlier this week at a call I attended.

Bolt and Doudna also noted that CRISPR was a scientific backwater at first. This really emphasizes the importance of funding basic science with no clear application. We never know where it will lead!

The first patient to be treated for sickle cell anemia using CRISPR is doing quite well a year later. Doudna and others are hard at work on further applications of this technology. As an investor and as a human being, I am eagerly anticipating these breakthroughs.

“Jennifer Doudna” by Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen is licensed under CC BY 2.0