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Dr. Jennifer Doudna, one of the leading figures to propose the use of the adaptive bacterial immune mechanism-CRISPR/cas9 for targeted gene editing [1], was invited to King’s College London to deliver a lecture as part of the King’s International Lecture series. The lecture was dedicated to Rosalind Franklin who is best known for her work on the X-ray diffraction images of DNA undertaken at the college which led to the discovery of the DNA double helix by James Watson and Francis Crick in 1953. Dr. Doudna’s talk was titled- CRISPR systems: Nature’s Toolkit for genome editing. With Randall Division being one of the hosts for this lecture, students and postdocs from the department were given an opportunity to have lunch with the speaker before the talk. I was one of the lucky 15 participants who was offered the slot to meet with Dr. Doudna. As the days got nearer, one could feel the buzz to be able to meet such a distinguished researcher who has even been named as one of the 100 most influential people in the world [2]. On the day itself, Dr. Doudna requested to kick-start things with introductions. However, her interest in each person and follow up questions regarding our work transformed it into a more personal and meaningful interaction. I was super excited to talk to her and began by sharing my gratitude for inventing the technology that is playing a huge role in my PhD project itself and which is turning out to be a great asset for the zebrafish community in particular amongst various others.

Beyond the lectures and talks, it is through such events that one gets a glimpse of the person behind the science. Especially in her case when her seminal contribution not only impacts the scientific research community but society at large, everyone was looking forward to hearing her views on a range of matters. On being asked about what she thought of current funding scenario for basic research, she said it definitely needed to increase significantly. She also shared her frustration of not being able to use her influence to do enough regarding this matter despite her few visits to the US Congress. An example of her attempt to engage with the current political establishment in the US can be found online [3]. She hoped scientists would be more vocal in communicating benefits of science to the general public thereby building public movements to ultimately put pressure on governments. It was interesting to find out that she was spending most of her time currently thinking about and encouraging an open debate around ethical issues arising out of use of CRISPR for a myriad of applications. In reference to the much-publicised patent disputes over CRISPR and how young researchers should go about sharing unpublished data in the backdrop of fierce competition, her message was clear- not to get discouraged by others taking advantage of such situations and to continue sharing data. She felt it was precisely because of such exchange of information, that her research had benefitted in the past more often than not. There were many more questions, which participants were eager to ask but it was hard to believe how quickly time had run out. Although short, it could not have been a more CRISP(R) chat.

We are grateful to the department for giving us this opportunity and hope such lunch events will continue to nourish our hunger for the food and intellectual stimulation in the future!

PS: Lunch included a delectable selection of sandwiches (many vegetarian options too), rolls, salads, drinks and not just crisps!

 

by Tapan Pipalia

 

[1] Jinek, M., Chylinski, K., Fonfara, I., Hauer, M., Doudna, J. A. and Charpentier, E. (2012). A programmable dual-RNA-guided DNA endonuclease in adaptive bacterial immunity. Science, 337, 816-821.

[2] TIME.com. (2015). Emmanuelle Charpentier & Jennifer Doudna: The World’s 100 Most Influential People. [online] Available at: http://time.com/collection-post/3822554/emmanuelle-charpentier-jennifer-doudna-2015-time-100/

[3] Doudna, J. and Marson, A. (2017). Federal funding for basic research led to the gene-editing revolution. Don’t cut it. [online] Vox. Available at: https://www.vox.com/the-big-idea/2017/4/22/15392912/genes-science-march-nih-funding-basic-research-doudna