Researchers See a New Path to Curbing Methane in Rice

A cup of tea in 2006 changed genetic engineering forever.  Jill Banfield, a University of California at Berkeley ecosystem scientist and 1999 MacArthur Foundation fellow had become curious in 2006 about mysterious repeating DNA sequences that were common in microbes that live in some of the planet’s most extreme environments, such as deep-sea heat vents, acid mines, and geysers.
She just needed a biochemist to help explain what the sequences known as Crispr/Cas9 were, and ideally somebody local. The best scientist-location tool available to the highly decorated PhD researcher — a web search — recommended a Berkeley RNA specialist named Jennifer Doudna. The two met for tea at a campus lunch spot.
Doudna hadn’t heard of Crispr, a kind of microbial immune system, and was intrigued. So much so that over the next few years she would go on to solve the sequence’s structure, which turned out to be something of a miraculous cut-and-paste tool for DNA.
The discovery heralded a new era of genomics that is revolutionizing science and multiple industries and earned Doudna half the 2020 Nobel Prize in chemistry.
Now, 15 years after their initial meeting, Banfield, Doudna and a large team of co-authors have published a paper that takes a major step toward solving the thorny problem of how to study and alter genomes of microbes living in complicated real-world environments, such as the gut microbiome or soil.
The complexity of microbial communities has been a major obstacle to discovering technologies that can prevent diseases and improve agriculture. It’s a critical step toward curbing methane, a harmful greenhouse gas that is emitted during rice production.







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