Jennifer Doudna, professor of molecular and cell biology and chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of A Crack in Creation: Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution, gave the inaugural UH Hilo Rose and Raymond Tseng Distinguished Lecture titled “CRISPR Systems: Nature’s Toolkit for Genome Editing” at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo.
Doudna gained international renown when she and her colleagues at UC Berkeley were the first to develop the CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing technology that enables scientists to edit the DNA of any organism. Based on a naturally occurring process used by bacteria to fight viruses, the CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) system provides scientists with a tool to make precise changes to the DNA of the genes, thereby modifying the function of cells in specific ways.
Roots in Hilo
Doudna was born in Washington, DC, and moved to Hilo with her parents when she was seven years old. She is a 1981 graduate of Hilo High School. Her father, Martin Doudna, was an English professor at UH Hilo, and her mother, Dorothy Doudna, taught history at Hawai‘i Community College.
Doudna credits UH Hilo biology professor emeritus Don Hemmes with inspiring her curiosity about the living world by giving her a chance to work in his lab on campus. Hemmes is an internationally known expert in fungi, notably mushrooms.
“I still remember working in his lab that summer,” says Doudna. “I couldn’t wait to get up in the morning and head to lab because I really wanted to do an experiment.”