The 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to molecular microbiologists Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier for their work on CRISPR, the revolutionary technology that gives scientists a way to accurately cut DNA and transform the genetic code of life. Likened to a pair of “genetic scissors,” CRISPR could open the door to cures for some cancers, sickle cell anemia, and other diseases. But it is not without controversy. It’s already been used to manipulate embryos. That could be the first step on the path to “designer babies,” and it raises a multitude of ethical questions. In this encore episode recorded in 2017, Doudna spoke with Walter Isaacson, then president of the Aspen Institute, about gene editing and what it could mean to have the power to control evolution. Doudna is the Li Ka Shing Chancellor’s Chair in Biomedical and Health Sciences at UC Berkeley. Her 2012 research on RNA molecules led to extraordinary insights in gene editing CRISPR technology. She wrote “A Crack in Creation,” which chronicles the story of her discovery and the responsibility that comes with rewriting the genetic code. Isaacson is a professor of history at Tulane. He’s written biographies of Leonardo da Vinci, Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein. His forthcoming book is “The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race.”
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