Prestigious scientific journal Cell just published an article entitled The Heroes of CRISPR, written by researcher Eric Steven Lander (Director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, and co-chair of President Obama's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology), about the history of this ground-breaking discovery made by Francisco Juan Martínez Mojica, a lecturer at the University of Alicante's Department of Phisiology, Genetics and Microbiology.
Lander says he wrote this article in order to paint the complete portrait of the history behind CRISPR, including that of the ideas and the pioneers. In it, he explains how only 3 years ago scientists declared CRISPR System to be the most extraordinary, simple and effective technique for cell genome modification, which can be used in a wide range of sectors, from biomedicine to agriculture. Ever since then, the idea of using CRISPR in human DNA modification spurred on international debate, and Mojica's work has been portrayed by prestigious media such as The Wall Street Journal and The New Yorker.
However, the origin of this whole scientific fuss dates back to 1993, when this UA microbiologist discovered a strange series of repeat sequences in micro-organisms. Later on, in 2005, he found out that they might be related with bacterial immunity against certain virus infections. Mojica studied these genetic sections in bacteria throughout his whole career. Despite the fact that the sections were detected in Escherichia coli(the most widely studied prokaryote organism) as early as in 1987, they went completely unnoticed in the 90s. In fact, it was Mojica himself who coined the term CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats), which is nowadays used by the whole international scientific community.
“Francisco J. M. Mojica suspected that CRISPR-Cas systems might have applications in biology and biomedicine, mainly from the point of view of bacterial immunity study and modification, which would make it possible to fight them more efficiently" explains scientist Lluís Montoliu (from CSIC's Biotechnology Centre) in his article CRISPR tools: an unexpected gift from bacteria that changed animal biotechnology forever.
All these years of research are at the core of many scientific breakthroughs, such as the one achieved by microbiology and biochemistry specialists Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna, who recently received the Princess of Asturias Award. These researchers laid the foundations to develop genome editing technology that makes it possible to correct defective genes with great precision and at a low financial cost. "Charpentier and Doudna did realise the great potential of CRISPR-Cas9 tools, and that is why we are paying our respects to both of them; it is fully deserved. However, the award recipients have not forgotten that it would have been impossible for their research to flourish if it had not been for the pioneer, systematic work done by basic microbiologists such as Francisco J. M. Mojica. For this reason, Charpentier and Doudna mentioned his experiments and gave him full credit in their well-known revision, which was published in Science magazine in November 2014" says Montoliu.