WOMEN IN SCIENCE HAVE THE POWER TO CHANGE THE WORLD
Professor Doudna is a world renowned structural biologist and understanding RNA, a close cousin of DNA, has long been her forte. Back in 2005 she was asked to have a look at intriguing repeating regions of DNA in bacteria called CRISPR sequences. In 2011, French microbiologist, Professor Emmanuelle Charpentier asked her to collaborate. Professor Charpentier had already published important work showing that bacteria were effectively able to vaccinate themselves against types of virus that they had already encountered using a CRISPR-Cas system (cf CRISPR - A technology at the cutting-edge). Together, Doudna, with her profound knowledge of RNA and Charpentier, with her CRISPR-Cas insight, published findings demonstrating that the mechanism used by bacteria to disable their foes could be adapted as a programmable precision genetic tool to modify genes in cells and organisms. Professor Doudna quickly realized that gene editing raised many potential ethical concerns. She has also been at the forefront of ensuring that these concerns are properly debated and understood. In particular she has pointed out potential concerns posed by so called ‘germ line editing’, that is affecting future generations by altering sequences in either sperm or egg.