University of Alicante senior lecturer Francis Mojica received an honorary degree from the UPV
Regarded as the Spanish father of CRISPR/Cas genome editing technique. “This involves that diseases can be cured”, as assured by the scientist in a previous press conference
“We will make every effort to increase UPV resources, both public and — especially — private”
Valencia, 19 September 2017
Today, the Polytechnic University of Valencia has inaugurated University of Alicante senior lecturer Francisco J. Martínez Mojica as a honorary doctor. The inauguration ceremony, which was attended by the UA President, was held during the 2017-2018 academic opening ceremony. The appointment has been a proposal from the Agronomic and Environmental Engineering University Technical School. Considered the Spanish father of CRISPR/Cas, the scientist is a senior lecturer at the University of Alicante Department of Physiology, Genetics and Microbiology. Martínez Mojica was the first to determine the existence of the CRISPR (Short Palindromic Repetitions Grouped and Regularly Interspaced) sequences and who coined the name of this tool that has been a breakthrough in Medicine.
Francis Mojica (Elche, 1963) graduated in Biology at the University of Valencia in 1986 and, a decade later, he joined the University of Alicante as a senior lecturer. He has devoted his professional life to the study of the immunological system of a microorganism (Haloferax) that inhabits in the Santa Pola salt lakes. His persistence to find out why this organism is capable of surviving has resulted in a groundbreaking genetic editing technique.
Although no one thought it could be useful, Mojica and his team decided to continue investigating. At present, this technology is used in laboratories around the world. As the scientist stated in the pre-ceremony press conference, "Even when circumstances are not the right ones, if you are a determined person with good will and the effort of a group of collaborators, sometimes things pass out with flying colours".
The eradication of AIDS or malaria is much closer
When Martínez Mojica published his finding, an international career was unleashed to understand how that hereditary immune system present in half of the known bacteria works. “They say my technique is an example”. In fact, its a genomic editing tool, which he summarises as "a genetic copy and paste editor," has multiple uses: from the identification of pathogenic microorganisms to the generation of virus-resistant microorganisms.
“Which involves that diseases can be cured”. As he expressed in his speech, "Thanks to the tools designed by bacteria, at present, we can say that the eradication of malaria or AIDS is much, much closer and there are good reasons to be optimistic in the treatment and prevention of retinitis pigmentosa, diabetes, cancer, muscular dystrophy or hypertrophic cardiomyopathy among many genetic disorders." However, because the applications are so different, this even opens the door to the use of bacteria as hard disks, since they are capable of storing a multitude of data encoded in their DNA: for example, an entire film, frame by frame.
Due to the usefulness and accessibility of this technique, which "allows to edit the genetic information of any living being," it has also reopened the debate over the moral constraints. “Because you can make a good use of it but also mischief”, Martínez Mojica highlighted.
Investing in research
“When Spain is in economic trouble, research is dragged through a bush backwards”, Martínez Mojica declared. This is why the scientist asks the authorities "to look reality in the eye, and observe those other countries where investment in research has increased tenfold."
Also, along the same lines during the academic opening ceremony, the speech of Polytechnic University of Valencia President Francisco Mora was along the same lines. "It may be the research sector where we find a greater contradiction between what is said and what is done; it is as simple as analysing the budgets devoted to R&D+i, both public and private, to verify this fact. While the European Union as a whole invests today 25% more in R&D+i than before the start of the economic crisis, Spain invests 10% less."
For that reason, Mora continued, "As the governing team, we will make every effort to increase the UPV resources, both those from public funds and, especially, those that come from private patronage and sponsorship. (…) We are going to increase our current programmes of predoctoral and postdoctoral researchers, as well as significantly strengthen the capacity to attract university faculty and researcher training programmes and talent pool programmes such as Juan de la Cierva, Ramón y Cajal, Beatriz Galindo, Marie Curie, etc."
The new honorary doctor of the Polytechnic University of Valencia, who defines himself as "a university lecturer and defender of public education", continues at the University of Alicante where he founded the Molecular Research Group focused on the study of CRISPR sequences. He is still working in the same line that he himself opened years ago while his name appears in the Nobel Prize buzz.