Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World no longer seems like science fiction, as UC Berkeley biochemist Jennifer Doudna’s research in CRISPR-Cas9 technology has revolutionized gene editing.
On Thursday, November 8, Doudna, co-author of A Crack in Creation: Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution, spoke at UCSB’s Campbell Hall about her research and the potential social, environmental, and ethical impacts of gene editing.
As a young girl growing up in Hawaii, Doudna was first inspired to study chemistry by James Watson’s book, The Double Helix. These interests inspired her to study the molecular composition of different organisms like bacteria and how they fend off viruses. Collaborating with researchers from Sweden, Doudna analyzed how damaged DNA repaired itself, eventually leading to her discovery of the CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing tool.
Doudna believes that this technology could potentially improve nutrition and yield in crops, help the environment, and redefine genetic surgery. For example, this could potentially help cure debilitating diseases like Huntington’s. Critics have also brought up many ethical and religious issues, believing that this technology can be abused to reaffirm social and economic inequality.
“I think CRISPR is not unique in that it is a technology that can be wonderful and can cause great problems,” Doudna said. “I think it is very unclear when and how [gene line editing] will be utilized.” Doudna seems quite hopeful for the future, as she writes in her book that, “Many of these changes will be unequivocally good. CRISPR has such incredible potential to improve our world.”