Ten years ago this week, Jennifer Doudna and her colleagues published the results of a test-tube experiment on bacterial genes. When the study came out in the journal Science on June 28, 2012, it did not make headline news. In fact, over the next few weeks, it did not make any news at all.
Looking back, Dr. Doudna wondered if the oversight had something to do with the wonky title she and her colleagues had chosen for the study: “A Programmable Dual RNA-Guided DNA Endonuclease in Adaptive Bacterial Immunity.”
“I suppose if I were writing the paper today, I would have chosen a different title,” Dr. Doudna, a biochemist at the University of California, Berkeley, said in an interview.
Far from an esoteric finding, the discovery pointed to a new method for editing DNA, one that might even make it possible to change human genes.
“I remember thinking very clearly, when we publish this paper, it’s like firing the starting gun at a race,” she said.
In just a decade, CRISPR has become one of the most celebrated inventions in modern biology. It is swiftly changing how medical researchers study diseases: Cancer biologists are using the method to discover hidden vulnerabilities of tumor cells. Doctors are using CRISPR to edit genes that cause hereditary diseases.