With great power comes great responsibility
On the very first World CRISPR Day, we celebrated what we achieved as a scientific community with CRISPR. Synthego virtually brought together both academic and industrial genome engineering experts to provide insights, practical methods to apply in the lab, and envision how CRISPR can contribute to a sustainable future.
The symposium got off to an excellent start with CRISPR pioneer and 2020 Nobel Laureate Dr. Jennifer Doudna as keynote speaker. She highlighted the impact of basic research on our society with respect to CRISPR: curiosity-driven research on a bacterial immune protection system against viruses rapidly led to harnessing CRISPR as a successful technology for manipulating genomes. According to Jennifer, one of the most promising ways for CRISPR to benefit humanity is by employing it for climate-smart agriculture innovations. She mentioned for example the genetic engineering of crops and the manipulation of soil microbes in order to mitigate the effects of climate change.
This was further elaborated on in the closing panel discussion with the producers and scientists from the groundbreaking CRISPR documentary film, Human Nature. With CRISPR in our hands, we can salvage the biodiversity that we are on the verge of losing, according to Alta Charo. Fyodor Urnov stated that we can in fact return or even increase the biodiversity of our food chain. Furthermore, CRISPR can contribute to sustainable agriculture. Not only through genome engineering of crops and soil microbes, as Jennifer mentioned, but also by e.g. engineering animals to excrete less phosphorus that flows off to rivers.
In short, with CRISPR we are carrying a remarkable discovery in our hands. However, as Jennifer Doudna stated: “the ability to manipulate genomes comes with extraordinary opportunity, as well as incredible responsibility”. In other words: with great power comes great responsibility.