Recruited from Yale University, structural biologist and biochemist Jennifer Doudna was attracted to Berkeley’s pioneering spirit and access to advanced research technology. The university seemed like a place where basic science could lead to big discoveries.
In fact, Doudna’s contributions have proven incalculable. When a colleague commented on a peculiar viral defense strategy called CRISPR, used by the genes of bacteria, Doudna pivoted her focus — and made a remarkable discovery in 2012.
Doudna’s team successfully programmed a bacterial protein, known as Cas9, to locate a specific sequence of DNA in a cell and cut it with a molecular blade. This meant that the combined CRISPR-Cas9 complex could be a precise tool for the targeted editing of genes, including those that cause human and crop diseases. CRISPR was faster, easier, and cheaper than previous gene editing methods, and research with it took off at a phenomenal pace.
Foreseeing the discovery’s power, Doudna recalls, “I remember feeling chills going down my back.”
As CRISPR-Cas9 has spawned new industries and catalyzed countless experiments in labs worldwide, Doudna has emerged as a global thought leader for the technology she helped create — and an advocate for its ethical and responsible use to help people and to solve problems.