Oct 27, 2020 - Science

CRISPR pioneer: "Science is on the ballot" in 2020

Nobel prize winner and CRISPR co-founder Jennifer Doudna being interviewed by Axios' Ina Fried
Photo: "Axios on HBO"

In her three decades in science, Jennifer Doudna said she has seen a gradual erosion of trust in the profession, but the recent Nobel Prize winner told "Axios on HBO" that the institution itself has been under assault from the current administration.

  • "I think science is on the ballot," Doudna said in the interview.

Why it matters: That has manifested itself in everything from how the federal government approaches climate change to the pandemic.

"I have now been doing science for three decades as a professional scientist. And I can say that over that period of time, I've seen an increasing distrust of science and scientists, to the point where I think now we're seeing kind of an extreme case where we have a president who is telling his followers that ... if they vote for his opponent, that ... his opponent will ... listen to scientists, as though that is a terrible thing."

The big picture: Doudna acknowledges that the scientific community probably hurt itself. The effort to stay above the political fray may well have led to too little dialogue between those making discoveries and the leaders responsible for funding those efforts.

  • Doudna said she is a little too busy to run for office, but she would like to see others take that path. "Any scientist who wants to go in that direction, I do think that is really, really important. They will get my vote."

Driving the news: Doudna and French colleague Emmanuelle Charpentier were earlier this month awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry for their work on CRISPR, a gene-editing technique that can be likened to a pair of molecular scissors that can change DNA.

  • Doudna talked about the challenges she faced as a woman pursuing a career in a male-dominated field. She recalled a high school guidance counselor who asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up.
"I said, 'Well, I want to be a scientist.' And he said, 'Oh, girls don't do that.' But, you know, I'm a pretty stubborn person. And when he said that to me, I thought, 'Well, this girl is gonna do science.'"

The bottom line: While Doudna was part of the first all-female team to win the Nobel Prize in chemistry, she said her goal is for that to eventually be unremarkable.

  • "I would hope for a future where ... it's no surprise that two women win a prize like this in chemistry."
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