The 2020 Nobel Prize for Chemistry was awarded to Dr. Jennifer Doudna and Dr. Emmanuelle Charpentier for their work on the gene editing technique known as CRISPR-Cas9. This gives us the ability to change the DNA of any living thing, from plants and animals to humans.
The applications are enormous, from improving farming to curing diseases. A decade or so from now, CRISPR will no doubt be taught in High Schools, and be a basic building block of medicine and agriculture. It is going to change everything.
There are ethical and moral concerns, of course, and we will need regulations to ensure this powerful technology is not abused. But we should focus on the remarkable opportunities CRISPR has opened up for us.
The 2020 Nobel Prize for Chemistry was awarded jointly to Dr. Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier for their discovery of the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing methodology. CRISPR, I’m sure you know, stands for clustered, regularly interspersed short palindromic repeats of the DNA and RNA code. And it’s got to do with how bacteria are able to evolve and deal with threats that come into their cells, and now I’m speaking like I know what I’m talking about when I really don’t.
My name is Graeme Codrington and this is Throw Forward Thursday. Come with me to the very near future where this wonderful CRISPR technology is being used in a variety of different places to improve our world. I say I sound like I know what I’m talking about because I’ve read the Wikipedia article and a website, and I’ll put the website link to iBiology into the show notes. There’s a wonderful video there in which Dr. Doudna takes about 15 minutes to explain CRISPR and especially CRISPR-Cas9, the particular approach to gene editing that won them the Nobel Prize. And she explains it, I’ll be honest, in a breezy tone, as if she was speaking to high school students.
And I think that maybe ten or 15 years from now, I think this gene editing ability will be something that you could study and even understand at high school level and become a basic building block of first year university medicine. It has a remarkable ability to change the world as we know it and we’ve only just begun.
It was discovered many, many years ago in Japan, and in fact, three different places claimed to have found it almost simultaneously. But now we have a technology that not just understands how genes actually adapt and adjust the DNA code, but we also have the ability to go into the DNA code. That’s the code that is in every single cell of every part of your body and we have the ability to actually change that cell.
Now, you can immediately imagine the ethical considerations and we need to be having those conversations, but what we are now able to do in the medical field is have a look at wonderful new ways of dealing with some really crippling diseases and engage with those diseases in different ways, giving our bodies the ability to fight those diseases themselves and do it much more naturally.
In other parts of our world, we can use this to improve our food supply, we can use the CRISPR technology to edit the genes of the food that we eat, to edit the genes of animals whether we eat them or not, to edit genes, one of the early researchers was improving yoghurt. I think quite a lot of the world’s yoghurt has already benefited from CRISPR-Cas9 technologies. So, I’m not going to go into any more of the science, the links are in the show notes, if you are interested.
But for me, this is just another example, and every Thursday it just blows my mind as I go through the list of things that I can talk about. To realise that we are at a moment in history where we are creating significant building blocks of change. Those building blocks then get applied in things like agriculture and medicine and horticulture and so on. And those building blocks actually change all of the rules. They change the rules for success and failure, they change what we believe is possible and they change how we engage with that particular part of the world. And when it’s things as big as the food we eat and the medicines we take and the bodies we live in, well, then, of course, we’re changing everything.
I suppose an immediate question for you is what building blocks are coming to your industry? Building blocks, which, when you plug them into your industry, have the potential to change everything. If you’re in agriculture or farming or medicine, CRISPR is probably already on your radar.
And then, of course, for all of the rest of us, it’s just about thinking and imagining a world in which CRISPR technologies, which are a combination of genetics, so it’s our ability to sequence genomes, which is a medical as well as a big data and computer processing power technology. It doesn’t take us weeks and months and years to do a DNA sequence. We can do it in a matter of hours and minutes these days, and then not just sequence the DNA, but then also understand it and then one step further, actually edit it. Well, this is remarkable and gives us incredible power in the spaces of life, and again, some ethical and even moral conversations are going to be necessary.
For me, I’m excited and also, not nervous, but knowing that we are going to have to put limits on something that is this powerful and realising that there are always people who just ignore those limits. I don’t want to put the limits on good science, though, because I want us to imagine a world 10, 15, 20 years from now, where CRISPR is the base foundation of amazing medicine that provides us with a healthier and better world to live in and gives us many new ways of engaging with disease and dealing with disease and deterioration of our bodies. What a remarkable world that we live in.
Next week, I’m going to take you behind the scenes at how the CRISPR technology was developed and what we can learn about experimentation and the innovation process from the work that Dr. Doudna and Charpentier did on Cas9 Technologies. I’ll see you next week.
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Graeme Codrington, is an internationally recognized futurist, specializing in the future of work. He helps organizations understand the forces that will shape our lives in the next ten years, and how we can respond in order to confidently stay ahead of change. Chat to us about booking Graeme to help you Re-Imagine and upgrade your thinking to identify the emerging opportunities in your industry.
For the past two decades, Graeme has worked with some of the world’s most recognized brands, travelling to over 80 countries in total, and speaking to around 100,000 people every year. He is the author of 5 best-selling books, and on faculty at 5 top global business schools.