CRISPR pioneer Jennifer Doudna on ‘mission driven’ science: ‘We set aside our own projects in a crash effort to fight COVID’

Credit: UC Berkeley
Credit: UC Berkeley

In a typical year, if you tried to map the trajectories of all of the scientific projects in even one department at a large public institution like UC Berkeley, you’d find lines going in all directions at once. What happened a year ago was different. The lines on the map suddenly coalesced around a single point.

With a shared vision, a diverse team of professors, postdoctoral researchers, engineers, graduate students and volunteers all willingly put their personal and professional projects on hold to do something that had never been done before.

The science behind a PCR-based Covid-19 test was right in our comfort zone, but spinning up a clinical laboratory was another matter entirely… In just three weeks, we secured lab certifications, developed new software and hardware with industry partners, ran the first of thousands of tests, received philanthropic funding to support lab operations, and started two dozen additional research projects, including a new rapid, point-of-need Covid test.

Ultimately, we added much needed testing capacity and assisted local health officials and community organizations in protecting essential frontline workers.

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Throughout the year, I was buoyed by the mission-driven, collaborative spirit of our consortium of academia, industry and community. My hope as we climb out of this pandemic is that we build on this cooperation.

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