Coming from a long line of Iowa farmers, David Savage always thought he would do research to improve crops. That dream died in college, when it became clear that any genetic tweak to a crop would take at least a year to test; for some perennials and trees, it could take five to 10 years. Faced with such slow progress, he chose to study the proteins in photosynthetic bacteria instead. But the advent of CRISPR changed all that.
The Royal Society of London, the oldest scientific academy in continuous existence, announced their newest fellows this week, among them four UC Berkeley faculty. The newest Berkeley fellows are U.K.-born developmental biologist Richard Harland and Australian-born chemist Martin Head-Gordon. They are joined by two new foreign members, climate scientist Inez Fung and plant biologist Brian Staskawicz. The four are among 51 new fellows, 10 new foreign members and one new honorary member.
Inserting or tweaking genes in plants is more art than science, but with a new technique developed by University of California, Berkeley, scientists could make genetically engineering any type of plant—in particular, gene editing with CRISPR-Cas9—simple and quick.
An initiative launched two years ago by UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco to use CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing to develop new disease therapies is expanding into research on the planet’s major crops and poorly understood microbiomes.