CRISPR is a family of DNA sequences that bacteria use to detect and destroy invading viruses. It was first reported by Francisco Mojica in 1993. CRISPR came to worldwide attention in 2012 when Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna used it to edit DNA.

Charpentier and Doudna won the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. In awarding the prize, the Nobel committee noted that “In an epoch-making experiment, they (Charpentier and Doudna) reprogrammed the genetic scissors. In their natural form the scissors recognize DNA from viruses, but Charpentier and Doudna proved they could¬† be controlled so that they can cut any DNA molecule at a predetermined site. When the DNA is cut it is easy to rewrite the code of life. Since Charpentier and Doudna discovered the CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors in 2012 their use has exploded. The tool has contributed to many important discoveries in basic research, and plant researchers have been able to develop crops that withstand mould, pests and drought. In medicine, clinical trials of new cancer therapies are underway, and the dream of being able to cure inherited diseases is about to come true. These genetic scissors have taken the life sciences into a new epoch and, in many ways, are bringing the greatest benefit to mankind.”