“The best ideas are always a little crazy, and I want to try them out.” Zhang Feng loves the challenge of trying out new and exciting ideas. His application of the CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing system to mammalian cells is one of those ideas, and it is one of the reasons for his joint reception of the 2016 Tang Prize in Biopharmaceutical Science.
If an organism is a book, and that organism’s genome is the text, the CRISPR/Cas9 system is like the word processor that can copy/paste, find and replace. Essentially, it makes fine-tuning a genome as straight forward as revising a term paper.
But unlike a term paper, a “typo” in a genome has much more serious consequences, such as disease. Using CRISPR/Cas9, Zhang hopes that we can find the genetic causes of disease, target them with genetic editing systems like the one he helped to develop, and actually remove them from the body. For Zhang, this is a very exciting time in medicine.
Unconventional thinking has been a boon to Zhang’s research output. While everyone expected that he would go straight into molecular biology, a field he had excelled in since high school, Zhang chose physics and chemistry for undergraduate study. But, rather than a tangent to his later career in biology, those two basic fields laid the foundations for his work today.
Known for his love of the long-shots and the Hail Marys of science, the coming years ought to be interesting indeed for Feng Zhang.
Learn more about CRISPR/Cas9 and Feng Zhang at the link below