Spanish Association Against Cancer 'V de Vida' Award was presented to CRISPR technique discoverers Francisco Martínez Mojica and Emmanuelle Charpentier
Alicante. Wednesday, 26 September 2018
The technique, called CRISPR/Cas9, which comes from the purest basic science, is a technology that allows the genome to be modified with great precision. Due to its contribution to the fight against cancer, the Spanish Association Against Cancer (AECC) has presented its "V de Vida" Award to the scientists responsible for the finding: Francisco Martínez Mojica, Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier.
Queen Letizia has chaired the event organised by the Spanish Association Against Cancer (AECC) on the occasion of the World Cancer Research Day, 24 September. The event took place in Canal Theatres and was also attended by Community of Madrid President Ángel Garrido and Spanish State Secretary for Universities, Research, Development and Innovation Ángeles Heras.
In 2005, Francisco J. Martínez Mojica published the discovery that triggered the CRISPR revolution. In June 2012, Emmanuelle Charpentier (Juvisy-sur-Orge, Francia; 1968) and Jennifer Doudna (Washington D.C., United States; 1964) found out how to cut and paste bits of DNA sequences. Today, thousands of laboratories around the world use the CRISPR/Cas9 technique and have even begun to test their application in human treatments against several types of cancer.
The also known as the genetic "cut and paste” technique could generate dramatic changes throughout society in the not too distant future as it is already causing profound changes already visible in Biology.
The technique was started by University of Alicante Spanish microbiologist Francisco Juan Martínez Mojica. In 1989, while he was measuring water quality on the beaches of Alicante, he began his doctoral thesis on a microorganism isolated in the Santa Pola salt lakes, called ‘Haloferax Mediterranei'. Mojica observed a series of genetic sequences that were repeated at regular intervals in the genome of this organism. Nothing in the scientific literature could explain the function of this oddity and Mojica had to wait for the results of his own work to give it a scientific explanation. This researcher looked at the databases of genomic information and what he discovered was that the repeated sequences abound at regular intervals in the microbial world which suggested "a great biological finding". In 2003, Mojica discovered that the true nature of these repeated sequences, which he called CRISPR, was to be a mechanism for the defence to protect microorganisms against viruses.
From this discovery, the microbiologist realised that, among the repeated DNA sequences, there were fragments of the invaders' genome, molecular signatures that will allow them to recognise them in subsequent attacks. That is, a genetic vaccine. This finding was finally published in 2005 and a good number of research groups set out to unravel the exact functioning of CRISPR ever since.
Dr. Emmanuelle Charpentier, who currently works at the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology (Berlin, Germany) and the University of Umeå (Sweden), discovered a key molecule in the CRISPR/Cas9 system. From this finding, and with the need to know its three-dimensional structure, she contacted Jennifer Doudna of the University of California to start a collaboration. As a result of this collaboration, in 2012, they artificially reproduced the system and demonstrated that it is a powerful genomic editing tool that can be programmed to recognise any DNA sequence.
The CRISPR/Cas9 mechanism destroys invaders by cutting their DNA with the Cas9 enzyme that serves as molecular scissors. In the laboratory, the viral DNA that serves to recognise the enemy through the CRISPR technique, is replaced by another guide sequence, by cutting out a target area of the genome. This highly accurate method can effectively 'cut and paste' small sections of DNA and add new sequences if necessary. This technique opens the possibility to edit the human DNA to improve treatments in cancer, among other possibilities.