Overview of the Development of CRISPR Gene Editing Technology

With the recent patent news, who owns CRISPR now? - Built WIth Biology

Many ordinary people became CRISPR in 2012, when scientists Jennifer Doudna along with Sam Sternberg reported their work in the journal Nature on Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats. This patented technology allows scientists to actually edit living human cells, to fix genetic mutations before they can cause any further harm to patients.

CRISPR is a vital topic that is poised to play a bigger role in medicine going forward as scientists refine their techniques. Whether you are a concerned and curious citizen who wants to keep up on the latest in genetic engineering, a student who wants to go into medicine, work in the pharmaceutical industry or are in investor or other interested party, it’s good to be aware of CRISPR technology, so you can keep a better eye on this emerging tool.

Here are details about the recent history of the development of CRISPR gene editing technology.


In 1993, Francisco Mojica at the University of Alicante, Spain, reported a CRISPR locus, conducting research in this area through 2005, according to Broad Institute. Mojica discovered that what scientists previously thought were unrelated sequences were actually sharing features in common, which is a main characteristic of CRISPR gene editing technology, since the little DNA fragments proved useful in targeting sections of a genome researchers are interested in identifying.

May 2005

By 2005, Researcher Alexander Bolotin of the French National Institute for Agricultural Research was studying Streptococcus thermophilus, a recently sequenced bacteria. Bolotin discovered a big protein that has nuclease activity and could be used to guide genetic engineering. It’s called Cas9. Another innovation for recognizing genetic targets to edit, PAM was also discovered in 2005. Protospacer adjacent motif helps identify genetic targets in CRISPR functions.

March 2006

In March of the next year, Eugene Koonin at the NIH’s US National Center for Biotechnology Information was analyzing clusters of orthologous groups of proteins, using a computer, when he came up with a hypothetical scheme for adaptive immunity for CRISPR cascades with an approach using a bacterial immune system, in an effort to use CRISPR for repairing DNA sections.

March 2007

Scientists working with S. thermophilus (employed to make cheese and dairy in the milk industry). They were interested in seeing how this bacteria react when under attack by phages. Industrial dairy concerns would like to know if CRISPR systems constitute an adaptive immune system. It turns out that CRISPR systems do integrate new phage DNA to enhance their ability to fight them off.

December 2010

Another important milestone in CRISPR gene editing occurred in December 201, when Sylvain Moineau of the University of Laval, Quebec City, Canada, proved that the Cas9 protein is suitable for cutting in two the DNA being targeted by researchers in a lab setting. They can use CRISPR-Cas9 to make double-stranded breaks in DNA they target, with precision. In fact, they can get by with just using Cas9 for cleaving DNA under investigation.

January 2013

This timeline of CRISPR gene editing from Broad Institute concludes with the January 2013 report from Feng Zhang of the institute (also of MIT and Harvard), explains how Zhang was the first scientist to adapt CRISPR-Cas9 to edit genomes in eukaryotic cells, driving homology-directed repair using demonstration tests in mouse and human cells about how they can engage in genome cleavage using two different Cas9 orthologs.

Studying the History of CRISPR to Help Understand Future Developments in Genetic Engineering

It’s useful to be aware of the history of a new technology, especially one so vital as CRISPR gene editing. Doing so helps you put new concepts of genetic engineering into context, with scientists anticipating more advances as they learn how to better edit gene sequences inside of living cells.