Image of CRISPR rock and scissors

The search for the kryptonite that can stop CRISPR

Powerful gene-editing tools have the potential to heal—or to harm. Now there’s a race to develop the antidote to the next bioweapon.

In September 2016, Jennifer Doudna called a new colleague named Kyle Watters to her office. By then, the University of California, Berkeley, biochemist was famous as the coinventor of CRISPR. The invention of the fast and versatile tool to edit genes had vaulted her to global notoriety and to considerable wealth. She was the founder of several startup companies and had collected millions in science-prize money.

Ominously, though, as Doudna has recounted, she was haunted by a dream in which Adolf Hitler appeared, holding a pen and paper, requesting a copy of the CRISPR recipe. What horrible purpose could Hitler have? Doudna, in her retellings of her dream, didn’t say.

Now Doudna’s question was, would Watters like to work on a way to stop it? Stop CRISPR.

CRISPR is found inside bacteria. It’s a billion-year-old defense against marauding viruses that spots their DNA and uses a scissors-like protein to chop it up. Doudna played a key role in transforming the find into a revolutionary gene-editing tool that’s been taken up worldwide, propelling a wave of new research and potential cures.




UC Berkeley



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