CRISPR is like a word processor for DNA. It allows easy and inexpensive gene editing. Edited genes are passed to future generations, making mutations permanent.
Doudna and Charpentier
Doudna and Charpentier worked on and invented the technology as a team. First, they worked on plants and, later, on animals.
History becomes murkier with the involvement of Feng Zhang. Depending on the origin story he either modified Doudna and Charpentier’s work or invented a new version that works on humans. In an initial ruling, the US patent office ruled that his work was original and awarded him a patent for the use of CRISPR in humans as opposed to plants and animals. Like similar histories in innowiki, there will no doubt be appeals and lawsuits for many years.
Charpentier and Doudna are professors at the University of California at Berkeley. Zhang is a professor at MIT.
Zhang is a founding member of The Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT. As of 2018, they have the sole right to use CRISPR in humans. They have announced academic researchers may use the technology freely, but commercial uses must be licensed.
There were many precursor innovations to CRISPR but most articles suggest it was Charpentier’s 2011 discovery, that the technology could guide gene selection, which is the core value of the technology.
In late 2018 Chinese researcher He Jiankui announced the use of CRISPR to genetically alter the DNA of twin girls. He allegedly fabricated ethics approval and claims he edited the genes to make the girls immune to HIV. In any event, the Chinese government declared the work illegal.
Based partly on He’s claim, scientists now say CRISPR is not as accurate as they initially believed. They say it works “more like an ax than a scalpel” for genetic manipulation. In any event, some form of CRISPR is likely to eventually have an enormous impact.