CRISPR-Cas9 technology, or simply CRISPR as it’s known, in short, has been at the center of great debate, and a major battle. The battle isn’t one that’s being played out in scientific labs, rather this is a battle that seems more fitting of Silicon Valley, as both MIT and UC Berkeley are battling in court over who will have access and the rights to CRISPR.
Universities on opposite sides of the country, yet two institutions that have led the way in science research over the course of the last several decades. Dr. Jennifer Doudna, who is a biochemist at UC Berkeley, made a key discovery in the process of editing genes in 2011. This is at the heart of the debate around CRISPR, given the fact that her findings led to where we are today scientifically speaking.
While Dr. Doudna might have been the one who originated the process and gotten the proverbial ball rolling, a scientist at MIT named Feng Zhang actually got the first major patents awarded for the technology. To some degree, this has become a debate about intellectual property, and what each school believes that they have done either rightly, or wrongly.
Dr. Doudna is now concerned though about how this technology is going to be used and implemented throughout the modern world. She said, “I really want to see this technology used to help people,” which was her main concern as she worked on this project in the early days. She also pointed out that she recalled thinking about how bizarre the project was that she was working on at the time. She said, “I remember thinking this is probably the most obscure thing I ever worked on.”
Jacob Corn, the director at UC Innovative Genomics Initiative, pointed out that, “This is a wakeup call.” He went on to point out that, “Human traits change naturally, over time. What we are talking about is the ability to do these ourselves, faster than nature can do.” The potential medical benefits would be undeniable, and even the scientific measures that could be taken to prevent various issues from ever arising in the first place, in a world where we have become particularly used to reacting – instead of proactively preparing – would be insanely beneficial.
However, it remains to be seen how the legal battle will play out. It also remains to be seen how this technology is going to be used, and whether this is something that will take years and years to play out. Right now, it would appear as though a serious West Coast, and East Coast rivalry is being established, and that might actually be a serious benefit in the science community – to add a little more benefit to pushing technology and information forward.