Re: A CRISPR Primer (7 February 2018)

I have a few comments regarding your post on Eric Lander and the CRISPR controversy. In my opinion it is quite unusual within the scientific community to see this type of review article published by someone so removed from the research. The Nobel for CRISPR will most likely be awarded to Doudna, Charpentier, and Zhang, and they and their (many) close collaborators and graduate students are the ones who are typically considered most qualified (and would be invited by a major journal) to write an article on the technique. Hence in this case the Lander article probably offended some individuals because, despite his famous role in the HGP and epic publication record, and his position in charge of the institution where Zhang’s work was conducted, he didn’t play a direct role in the development of CRISPR/Cas9.

Another unusual aspect of the Lander article is its failure to recognize the Kuhnian paradigm shift that occurred when Jinek, … Doudna, Charpentier finally cracked the puzzle of bacterial type II CRISPR systems, leading to the first-ever in vitro use and characterization of CRISPR/Cas9 in their seminal Science 2012 paper. In fact the system described in this paper is routinely used today in labs around the world with barely any modification, and can be delivered intact into basically any type of cell using electroporation or lipofection. To fail to recognize this achievement as truly different in kind from the other associated work is a bit like… say.. spending one sentence on Darwin’s On the Origin of Species in a history of evolutionary theory. Or say, it’s like downplaying the Battle of the Bulge in a history of WWII. So it does stand out as an odd way to tell the story.

You might not be a fan of TED talks (who is, really) but Doudna’s concerns regarding unethical uses of CRISPR are far from grandiose. It’s actually rather admirable, coming from the person who unleashed a technology that could make eugenics a reality. You might also be interested in checking out this NAS / NAM report here on heritable genome editing: https://www.nap.edu/read/24623/chapter/7 – it’s a surprisingly readable discussion of the issues involved. This report is one example of a domino set in motion by the Science 2012 paper, and it shows that a lot of big-name scientists in the National Academies are rather concerned about malevolent and/or unethical uses of CRISPR technology.

Overall, CRISPR is a fascinating area to watch with many new developments every month.

MD/PhD Student, San Francisco


Re: Grateful in Baltimore (3 May 2015)

Sir: Very good article, and I’m not a liberal. Perhaps a meliorist.
Antoni Bosch-Domènech, Barcelona


Re: The Generation of ’91 (8 February 2015)

Sir: Putin New Yorker cover a “demonization”. Really?
Olivia Nyhan, Brookline, Mass.