The celebrated Spanish scientist and pioneer of CRISPR, Dr Francisco Mojica, recently visited UNSW Sydney to discuss his ground-breaking discovery at the core of today’s genome-editing revolution.
Dr Mojica, who was awarded the PLuS Alliance Prize for Global Innovation in 2017, spoke to Merlin Crossley, Professor of Molecular Biology at UNSW, and took questions from a full house of more than 350 people, including members of the Australian medical science community, government, industry, and media.
The event was hosted by UNSW Grand Challenges, in partnership with the PLuS Alliance and the Spanish Researchers in Australia-Pacific (SRAP-IEAP), on Tuesday 12th June. Dr Mojica is a leader in Microbiology at the University of Alicante in Spain.
More than two decades ago, Dr Mojica discovered the unusual family of DNA sequences in bacteria and archaea that form an adaptive, immune defence system. CRISPR - which stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats - serve as a natural, genetic memory that helps cells to remember and destroy the DNA of invading viruses. CRISPR is the basis of CRISPR-Cas9, a tool that enables scientists around the world to edit DNA with the potential to one day cure diseases like sickle cell anaemia, muscular dystrophy, and HIV.
Dr Mojica said that he could never have imagined what CRISPR has become today.
“I was sure that it would be very relevant in the field of microbiology, but I never dreamed that it would give rise to a tool that allows us to edit the genome of any organism, much faster and more easily than ever before. It’s like science fiction.”
Professor Merlin Crossley, who is also Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) at UNSW, said that it was an honour to have Dr Mojica speak at the university on his first trip to Australia.
“The impact of Francisco Mojica’s research is immeasurable - his discovery is undoubtedly one of the biggest scientific advancements of this century and has the potential to benefit a wide range of sectors far beyond medicine. It’s a very exciting time for CRISPR right now, both here in Australia and around the world, and to have its pioneer on campus is fantastic.”
Dr Mojica also toured the labs at the School of Biotechnology & Biomolecular Sciences at UNSW and delivered a public lecture in Canberra during his visit to Australia, along with talks in China and Japan, hosted by SRAP and the Embassy of Spain.
Did you miss the event? Watch the full conversation now.
Photo credit: Jacquie Manning