Our annual look at 10 Breakthrough Technologies—including CRISPR for high cholesterol, battery recycling, AI that makes images, and the James Webb Space Telescope—that will have a profound effect on our lives. Plus care robots, 3-D printing pioneers, and chasing bugs on the blockchain.
The successful use of engineered white blood cells (cells that are removed from the human body, modified with receptors that allow them to recognize cancer cells, and then returned to the body) to fight and eliminate tumor cells has frequently been called revolutionary and has even allowed researchers the rare opportunity to refer to a cure for certain cancers.
For the first time a virgin birth has taken place in a mammal – a female mouse has given birth without any input from a male. The team explains how CRISPR gene editing has been used to create embryos from unfertilised eggs.
Taking a much-needed trip off the planet, the team discusses two stories from Mars, one from NASA’s Perseverance rover and another from China’s Zhurong rover. We also present an audio space-quiz you can take part in! Thanks to NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/CNRS/ISAE-Supaéro for the audio clips.
CRISPR is a technology that can be used to edit genes and, as such, will likely change the world. The essence of CRISPR is simple: it’s a way of finding a specific bit of DNA inside a cell. After that, the next step in CRISPR gene editing is usually to alter that piece of DNA.
This revolutionary gene-editing system has taken science by storm. CRISPR is the basis of a revolutionary gene editing system. One day, it could make it possible to do everything from resurrect extinct species to develop cures for chronic disease.
CRISPR is a family of DNA sequences found in the genomes of prokaryotic organisms such as bacteria and archaea. These sequences are derived from DNA fragments of bacteriophages that had previously infected the prokaryote. They are used to detect and destroy DNA from similar bacteriophages during subsequent infections.
Dr. Jennifer Doudna first made her name uncovering the basic structure and function of the first ribozyme, a type of catalytic ribonucleic acid (RNA) that helps catalyse chemical reactions. This work helped lay the foundation for her later helping to pioneer CRISPR-Cas 9, a tool that has provided the means to edit genes on an unprecedented scale and at minimal cost. In addition to her scientific contributions to CRISPR, Doudna is known for spearheading the public debate to consider the ethical implications of using CRISPR-Cas9 to edit human embryos.
Visionary biochemist Jennifer Doudna shared the Nobel Prize last year for the gene-editing technology known as CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats), which has the potential to cure diseases caused by genetic mutations. Correspondent David Pogue talks with Doudna about the promises and perils of CRISPR; and with Walter Isaacson, author of the new book “The Code Breaker,” about why the biotech revolution will dwarf the digital revolution in importance.
“We had a sense that we were onto something big,” says Jennifer Doudna, as she recalls the start of her “curiosity-driven” research into CRISPR and reflects on the pace of the field today, in this short conversation with Adam Smith. Speaking from her patio in the early morning in Palo Alto, Doudna describes how she was woken by a call from a journalist: “I assumed she was calling me to ask me to comment on somebody else winning the Nobel Prize!” The award of the prize to her and Emmanuelle Charpentier will, she hopes, be an encouragement to other women. “Sometimes,” she comments, “there’s a sense that no matter what they do, their work will not be recognised in the way it would be if they were a man.”
In this interview recorded shortly after news broke of her Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Emmanuelle Charpentier tells Adam Smith of her surprise at receiving the call from Stockholm, despite considerable speculation that it might be coming her way. She speaks of the “explosion of knowledge and publications” that the CRISPR field has generated, the motivations behind her “brief but intense” collaboration with her co-Laureate Jennifer Doudna, the need for societal involvement in the conversation about the applications of technology and the importance of studying the microbiological world.