“Madness with Crispr”

A moment in the lab and its consequences
Jennifer Doudna met Emmanuelle Charpentier at a conference in Puerto Rico in 2011. The two researchers’ first meeting evolved into a collaboration in their shared specialty that has earned them both a number of awards. Now she is crowned with the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
Doudna was born in 1964 in Washington, the U.S. capital. Her interest in chemistry developed early because, by her own admission, she made few friends at her boyhood home in Hilo, Hawaii, and read a lot in her father’s popular science books. “I remember lying on my bed a lot and thinking about how things work like that, especially in nature,” she said in an interview.
Her research at the University of California at Berkeley focuses on RNA, a partner molecule of the genetic substance DNA that also carries genetic information but is also a component of molecular machines that, for example, translate genetic information into cellular functions. Her research on a defense mechanism of bacteria against viruses brought her together with Charpentier. In the bacterial cells, the genetic material of the viruses was recognized, cut up and thus rendered harmless. In 2012, the two scientists published their groundbreaking paper in the journal Science. From then on, “the madness with Crispr,” as they called the subsequent developments, took its course.
The researchers showed that the mechanism could be used as gene scissors to insert or excise sections of DNA from the genetic material of plants or animals. Gene scissors already existed, but with Doudna’s contribution, they became a precision tool now used in laboratories around the world to study gene function. The patent on Crispr/Cas9 is being contested by her (see text at left). But Doudna isn’t letting the joy of the discovery dampen her spirits, she says: “No one can take away that moment in the lab when we saw something that had never been seen before.” Patrick Eickemeier (with dpa)