Walter Isaacson, Historian and Author of The Code Breaker

Published on01 APR 2021

In this episode of Talks at GS, Walter Isaacson, historian and author of The Code Breaker, discusses the story behind Nobel Prize-winning biochemist Jennifer Doudna’s discovery of CRISPR gene editing and why CRISPR has been critical in the fight against COVID-19. 

On Doudna’s gene editing research: “All the other guys in biology were tracing the double helix, the structure of DNA. But Jennifer Doudna realized that RNA was actually the more useful molecule. It does work. It comes out of the cell and to the outer region of the cell and builds proteins, or it serves as a guide for enzymes to cut up DNA. And so, she was able to develop this gene editing tool, which she and her partner, Emmanuelle Charpentier, won the Nobel Prize for last October. And, of course, that ability to use RNA as a messenger is at the core of the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines that we're now getting.”

On CRISPR combating Covid-19: “One of the interesting things that happened about two thirds of the way through my book is the Coronavirus pandemic strikes, and Jennifer Doudna says, ‘I'm going to gather the scientists in the Bay Area and we're going to turn our attention to using the tools we've developed in order to fight Coronavirus… CRISPR is simply something bacteria have been using for a billion years to fight viruses. So we might as well repurpose it to fight our own viral enemies.’”

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