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The 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry: CRISPR/Cas technology

Posted by , on 12 October 2020

As I’m sure you’ve all heard, last week saw the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry awarded to Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna for their work on the CRISPR/Cas system. It’s hard to believe that it was only 8 or so years ago that they – along with their colleagues Martin Jinek, Krzysztof Chylinski and others – demonstrated the potential of the Streptococcus CRISPR/Cas9 adaptive defense system to be used for genome editing.

Whether you’re a fan of the Nobel or you think it’s over-rated, it’s hard to argue against the influence that CRISPR technology has had on the biomedical sciences, including developmental biology. Of course, it’s not that we couldn’t edit genomes before CRISPR came along – tools such as zinc-finger nucleases and TALENS were already proving useful to engineer mutations in a range of species – but the relative flexibility and ease of use of the CRISPR system opened up new possibilities for genome engineering both in traditional and non-traditional model systems.

Not only can targeted mutations now be made more quickly, efficiently and cheaply than we might have believed possible just a decade ago, but the precision with which specific edits to the genome can be made has also improved dramatically. Moreover, the CRISPR toolkit has been expanded to a wide range of other technologies – from genetic screening to manipulation of gene expression to barcoded lineage tracing.

We asked some of Development’s editors to sum up how CRISPR has impacted their research. Here are a few of their responses:

“CRISPR-based methods have become so ubiquitous that it is becoming difficult to remember how we were working in the pre-CRISPR era” (François Guillemot)

“Like many developmental biologists, CRISPR/Cas9 has revolutionised our research. Knocking-out a gene, easy-peasy; introducing a point mutation, no problem; deleting a regulatory element, piece of cake. It means we can design more creative and more precise experiments and we’re still only at the beginning of what is possible.” (James Briscoe)

“CRISPR/Cas9 has been a great addition to our tool box and substantially changed our life in the last 5-6 years. Genetic approaches in mice and cultured cells became so easy and became available for even non-standard organisms – the evo-devo field has perhaps been revolutionarily changed…  Not only genetics, but also epigenetics: CRISPR/Cas9 technology is also applied to modify chromatin structures in highly targeted manner.” (Haruhiko Koseki)

“My postdoc knockout mouse took over two years to make. A student can make one in 3 weeks now.” (Benoit Bruneau)

To celebrate the Nobel award, Development has collected together just a few of the CRISPR papers published in the journal over the last 8 years. All these articles are free to read, and we invite you to browse the collection here. In it, you’ll find papers that apply CRISPR technologies in a wide range of model systems, that improve the efficiency with which mutations can be generated, and that use modified Cas9 proteins to manipulate gene expression or enhancer activity in a targeted manner. You’ll also find commentaries that touch on some of the thorny ethical questions that genome editing has thrown our way: how should we consider genome editing in the context of agriculture and genetically modified crops and – perhaps most difficult of all – what about human genome editing? We hope you enjoy this collection of articles.

And if you have comments on how CRISPR technologies have impacted your research, we’d love to hear them – please leave a comment below!


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One thought on “The 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry: CRISPR/Cas technology”

  1. I feel lucky to have started my PhD in 2013, so I could experience the time when CRISPR was still a ‘brand new cool technique’ . There was even an internal CRISPR seminar series at our institute so researchers trying CRISPR in different organisms could share experiences, discuss and exchange protocols, and I remember people being excited how efficiently it worked – often on their first try!
    I later generated our lab’s first mutant zebrafish strains, but before that already the control experiments for CRISPR in zebrafish were really fun – injecting embryos with Cas9 and gRNAs against the tyrosinase gene and getting larvae without pigments (this was also a good assay to later see how injecting Cas9 protein is so much more efficient than injecting the mRNA)

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