10th Anniversary of CRISPR

CRISPR debuted 10 years ago, in a paper hardly anyone noticed. Jennifer Doudna reflects on the DNA scissors’ first decade

On June 28, 2012, a joint press release went out from the U.S. Department of Energy and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory announcing a new paper in Science from an international team of researchers based there. “Programmable DNA Scissors Found for Bacterial Immune System,” it declared, hinting that the discovery could lead to a new “editing tool for genomes.”

That paper, “A Programmable Dual-RNA-Guided DNA Endonuclease in Adaptive Bacterial Immunity,” has now been cited by more than 15,000 publications and downloaded nearly 65,000 times. It laid out the inner workings of a system called CRISPR/Cas9, transformative work for which two of its authors, Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier, were awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry just eight years later.

At the time, though, no reporters came calling, no news stories were published. Doudna’s only quote was in that press release. “Although we’ve not yet demonstrated genome editing,” she said, “given the mechanism we describe, it is now a very real possibility.”

A decade later, we know what an understatement that turned out to be. CRISPR has been used to manipulate the genomes of organisms across every branch of the tree of life, including humans. It’s now being tested to treat dozens of inherited diseases, with companies planning to ask regulators for approval of the first CRISPR-based medicine as soon as later this year.

STAT spoke with Doudna, a biochemist at the University of California, Berkeley, where she directs the Innovative Genomics Institute, about the first 10 years of CRISPR genome editing and what comes next. Excerpts from the conversation are below, lightly edited for clarity.

Looking back, are you surprised this paper didn’t make a bigger splash when it was first published?

It’s interesting because it kind of speaks to the way that scientific discoveries happen. This was a case where at the time of that publication, it wasn’t the kind of thing that would generate New York Times headlines because it was still very much in the realm of fundamental, curiosity-driven science. Only in retrospect did it become clear to people who weren’t specialists what an important moment that was.







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