Genome-editing revolution: My whirlwind year with CRISPR

Jennifer Doudna in Nature:

DoudnaSome 20 months ago, I started having trouble sleeping. It had been almost two years since my colleagues and I had published a paper1 describing how a bacterial system called CRISPR–Cas9 could be used to engineer genomes (see ‘Based on bacteria’). I had been astounded at how quickly labs around the world had adopted the technology for applications across biology, from modifying plants to altering butterfly-wing patterns to fine-tuning rat models of human disease. At the same time, I'd avoided thinking too much about the philosophical and ethical ramifications of widely accessible tools for altering genomes. Questions about whether genome editing should ever be used for non-medical enhancement, for example, seemed mired in subjectivity — a long way from the evidence-based work I am comfortable with. I told myself that bioethicists were better positioned to take the lead on such issues. Like everyone else, I wanted to get on with the science made possible by the technology. Yet as the uses of CRISPR–Cas9 to manipulate cells and organisms continued to mount, it seemed inevitable that researchers somewhere would test the technique in human eggs, sperm or embryos, with a view to creating heritable alterations in people. By the spring of 2014, I was regularly lying awake at night wondering whether I could justifiably stay out of an ethical storm that was brewing around a technology I had helped to create.

…This year has been intense — and intensely fascinating. At times I have wished that I could step off the merry-go-round, just for a few minutes, to process everything. Ensuring that my travel and other commitments do not disrupt the progress of my lab members has been a priority, but working with them has increasingly involved meeting at night or on weekends, or conferring by e-mail or Skype. For now, time for my beloved vegetable garden and for hikes into the wilds of California with my 13-year-old son is gone. Almost three years after a colleague warned me that a “tidal wave” of research, discussion and debate involving CRISPR–Cas9 was coming, I still don't know when the wave will crest.

More here.