The work: Dr. Zhang and his team pioneered the development of the microbial CRISPR-Cas system as a genome editing tools for function in eukaryotic cells. They demonstrated that Cas9 can be used to make modifications at multiple sites in the genome in both human and mouse cells, and that the cuts made by Cas9 can be repaired through the incorporation of a new stretch of DNA. Following this initial work, Dr. Zhang and colleagues developed a number of applications for studying biology and disease based on the CRISPR-Cas technology and discovered additional Cas enzymes with unique properties that further expand the genome editing toolbox.
The Impact: These CRISPR-Cas genome editing tools are significantly easier and cheaper to use than previous approaches for gene editing, and they are being used by tens of thousands of scientists around the world to accelerate their research. Ultimately, CRISPR-Cas technologies￼may prove to be a powerful therapeutic for treating human diseases by editing out harmful mutations.
Feng Zhang is a Core Member at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, an Investigator at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT, and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. He was born in Shijiazhuang (Hebei Province, China) in 1981 and moved to Des Moines, Iowa in 1993. His introduction to engineering biological tools for mammalian systems began as a sophomore in high school with an opportunity to intern in the gene therapy lab of John Levy in Des Moines, Iowa. He obtained an A.B. in Chemistry and Physics from Harvard University in 2004 working with Xiaowei Zhuang. As a PhD student in the Chemistry Department at Stanford University, Zhang worked with Karl Deisseroth to develop optogenetics technologies for dissecting brain circuits, using light-sensitive proteins from microbes to enable control of neuronal activity in living organisms with light. After finishing his Ph.D. in 2009, Feng joined the Harvard Society of Fellows as a Junior Fellow (2009-2010), focusing on developing gene editing tools based on transcription activator-like effectors (TALEs). In 2011, Zhang began his own laboratory at the Broad and McGovern Institutes, where he harnessed CRISPR-Cas systems for gene editing in eukaryotic cells. His lab continues to play a critical role in the development of gene editing technologies and applications that are accelerating research around the world.