CRISPR: It’s the powerful gene editing technology transforming biomedical research. Fast, cheap and easy to use, it allows scientists to rewrite the DNA in just about any organism—including humans—with tests on human embryos already underway. The technique’s potential to radically reshape everything from disease prevention to the future of human evolution has driven explosive progress and heated debate. Join the world’s CRISPR pioneers to learn about the enormous possibilities and ethical challenges as we stand on the threshold of a brave new world of manipulating life’s fundamental code.
The Big Ideas Series is supported in part by the John Templeton Foundation.
Richard Besser is ABC News’ chief health and medical editor. In this role, he provides medical analysis and commentary for all ABC News broadcasts and platforms, including World News with David Muir, Good Morning America, and Nightline. Besser came to ABC News from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), where he served as director of the Coordinating Office for Terrorism Preparedness and Emergency Response. He also served as acting director for the CDC. Besser began his career at the CDC in 1991 in the Epidemic Intelligence Service. Following this, he served for five years on the faculty of the University of California, San Diego, as the pediatric residency director. While in San Diego he worked for the county health department on the control of pediatric tuberculosis. He returned to the CDC in 1998, where he served in various capacities, including epidemiology section chief in the Respiratory Diseases Branch. He received a Surgeon General’s Medallion award for his leadership during the H1N1 response. Richard Besser holds a B.A. in economics from Williams College and received his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania. He completed a residency and chief residency in pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland.
George Church is professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School and director of PersonalGenomes.org, providing the world’s only open-access information on human Genomic, Environmental, and Trait data (GET). His 1984 Harvard Ph.D. included the first methods for direct genome sequencing, molecular multiplexing, and barcoding. These lead to the first commercial genome sequence (pathogen, Helicobacter pylori) in 1994. His innovations in “next generation” genome sequencing & synthesis and cell/tissue engineering resulted in 12 companies spanning fields including medical genomics (Knome, Alacris, AbVitro, GoodStart, Pathogenica) and synthetic biology (LS9, Joule, Gen9, Warp Drive) as well as new privacy, biosafety, and biosecurity policies. He is director of the NIH Center for Excellence in Genomic Science. His honors include election to NAS and NAE, and Franklin Bower laureate for achievement in science.
Luke Dow is an assistant professor of Biochemistry in Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City. Dow completed his PhD in Melbourne, Australia, before joining the laboratory of Professor Scott Lowe for his postdoctoral work in 2008, where he developed new systems to interrogate gene function in the mouse, including the first application of inducible in vivo CRISPR-based genome editing tools. His lab at Weill Cornell is focused on understanding the biology of colorectal cancer (CRC), and developing new therapeutic approaches to treat this disease. They build tailored pre-clinical models—based on genetic alterations frequently observed in human CRC—to investigate how genetic alterations influence the onset, progression and therapeutic response of CRC.
Josephine Johnston is an expert on the ethical, legal, and policy implications of biomedical technologies, particularly as used in human reproduction, psychiatry, genetics, and neuroscience. In addition to numerous scholarly publications, her commentaries have appeared in The New Republic, TIME, Washington Post, Stat News, and Nature. Much of her current research addresses the ethical implications of genomics, including new kinds of prenatal genetic tests, gene editing technologies, and genomic sequencing of newborns. A New Zealand-trained lawyer with a master’s degree in bioethics and health law from the University of Otago, Johnston has worked as a bioethics researcher in the US and Canada since 2001. She joined The Hastings Center as a research scholar in 2003 and became director of research there in 2012.
Ben Matthews is a postdoctoral research associate in the Laboratory of Neurogenetics and Behavior at The Rockefeller University and Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He joined the laboratory, run by Leslie Vosshall, in 2010 to study the mosquito Aedes aegypti, a vector of mosquito-borne diseases including Zika virus, Dengue Fever, and Chikungunya. Matthews has adapted genome editing techniques, including CRISPR, to investigate the genes and neural circuits that control egg-laying and host-seeking behaviors in the mosquito, and is broadly interested in the application of modern genetic technologies to interesting and important insects. He has a PhD in Neurobiology and Behavior from Columbia University, where he worked with Wes Grueber on the genetic basis of neuronal patterning, and a BS in Biology from the California Institute of Technology.
Harry Ostrer, M.D. is professor of Pathology and Pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He develops new technologies and investigates the genetic basis of common and rare disorders, then translates the findings into tests that can be used to identify people’s risks for having a disease or for predicting its outcome. Dr. Ostrer is an advocate for fairness in the use of genetic information. In 2013, he was the successful plaintiff in the lawsuit, Association of Molecular Pathology versus Myriad Genetics.
Noel Sauer is the Director of Technology at Cibus. Dr. Sauer earned her B.S. degree in Biological Sciences from the University of Southern California, and a doctoral degree in Microbiology and Molecular Genetics from Harvard University. For her postdoc, Dr. Sauer joined Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, studying host-pathogen interactions. At Cibus, she is responsible for leading a team of innovative scientists towards the development of non-transgenic traits in commercially relevant crops by revolutionizing the field of precision gene editing in plants.