CRISPR: the impact of a powerful new gene editing tool

In 2012 researchers at UC Berkeley, MIT and Harvard introduced the gene editing technique CRISPR/Cas9. Since then it has become a cornerstone of genetic engineering, allowing scientists to ‘cut and paste’ DNA segments with an ease that has been transformative. In a recent Nature article, a geneticist from Cornell with 30 years experience, John Schimenti described it this way, “I’ve seen two huge developments since I’ve been in science: CRISPR and PCR…

CRISPR is impacting the life sciences in so many ways” (Ledford 2015). Since 2012, the number of published papers mentioning CRISPR went from less than 200 per year to more than 600 per year in 2014 (Ledford, 2015). Likewise, patenting and financing of biotech companies involving the CRISPR technology has also exploded (Ledford 2015). In 2012, there were fewer than 25 patent applications mentioning CRISPR but by 2014 there were over 150 applications. New biotech firms founded around the CRISPR technology had raised over $150 million by the end of 2014.

Our project looks at how CRISPR spread throughout the synthetic biology community and how it affected the productivity of researchers.

This work is joint with Sam Zyontz.

In a separate paper, with Mike Teodorescu, we also look at the effect of scientific networks in shaping the spread of this knowledge.


Synthesis Costs

The cost of sequencing and synthesizing DNA has fallen rapidly – much faster, in fact, than the cost of transistors decreased under Moore’s Law. This has made it a powerful tool for scientists to use in their research. Our paper looks at how this expansion changes their ability to push out the frontier of knowledge, with a particular eye to the interactions between tools and the burden of knowledge hypothesis.