CRISPR Co-Creator Isn’t Super Psyched About the J. Lo ‘CRISPR’ Show

Jennifer Doudna, one of the pioneers of the gene-editing technique, responds.

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Oct 20 2016, 8:04pm

Image: Jussi Puikkonen/KNAW/Flickr/CC By 2.0

One of the pioneers of CRISPR, the powerful gene editing technology, seems curious but guarded about the prospect of a fictionalized bioterror TV show based on her team's work.

Earlier this week, The Hollywood Reporter said that NBC was considering developing CRISPR, a serialized sci-fi show from Jennifer Lopez's production company focused on an FBI agent and scientist duo solving genetic crimes.

Curious to know how CRISPR's creators felt about the idea, I reached out to Jennifer Doudna, a geneticist at the University of California, Berkeley, who's widely credited as one of the leading inventors of CRISPR-Cas9, a technique that uses an enzyme called Cas9 as a kind of "scissors" to cut apart DNA strands. The technology, which lets scientists modify living organisms by deleting and adding genes to strings of their DNA, has made headlines in recent years due to the powerful potential it holds for medicine, agriculture, and biotech, as well as the potential risks of creating unforeseen problems that could be passed down through successive generations.

Doudna and her colleagues first developed the CRISPR-Cas9 technique back in 2012 (concurrently with other scientists), and she's still working on CRISPR research to this day through her namesake lab. Doudna emailed the following statement to Motherboard through a representative:

"CRISPR is powerful and profound technology that can help us positively impact human life," said Dr. Jennifer Doudna, professor of molecular and cell biology and chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley and co-inventor of CRISPR-Cas9. "It is important to introduce it to the public and characterize it correctly but we must remember that this show is dramatized science fiction."

That's a pretty carefully worded statement—neither a condemnation nor an endorsement of the TV show that NBC is said to be considering. Here's a description of the plot of that show via The Hollywood Reporter:

If the project moves forward, each episode will explore a bio-attack and crime — from a genetic assassination attempt on the president to the framing of an unborn child for murder. The show's central character is a scientist with the CDC who is paired with an FBI agent. In the same vein of Castle, romance will blossom between the scientist and the FBI agent as they team to bring down a diabolical genius with a twisted God complex: her former boss. The drama will see mentor and protégé battle for control over the human genome in a game of cat and mouse in which the future of our species may rest and all disease could one day be eradicated.

I'm no expert on genetics, but based on my understanding of what CRISPR is capable of, it sounds like those plot lines are far-fetched at best. More likely, they're completely implausible.

That said, a sci-fi show that's based (loosely) on a real life genetic tool, and not about vampires or zombies, could be fascinating if done well. It might even make people more interested in actual science.

It sounds like Doudna is waiting along with the rest of us to see what the end product is like.

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