The work: Dr. Barrangou and Dr. Horvath’s research focused on understanding the genetic basis for health-promoting and technological properties of beneficial bacteria used in food fermentations. Along with colleagues, they established that CRISPR-Cas systems provide adaptive immunity against viruses in bacteria where it recognizes foreign DNA and uses a special molecular scalpel to target and destroy it. They also showed that CRISPR arrays capture viral DNA for natural vaccination against bacteriophages; and demonstrated that cas genes are implicated in sequence-specific targeting and cleavage of DNA.
The impact: Their discovery established CRISPR-Cas as the adaptive immune system of bacteria and has made dramatic impact on the science community, setting the stage for a new research area. This inspired others to investigate CRISPR further. The key advantages of CRISPR over other gene-editing systems are its ability to be quick, precise, efficient and relatively inexpensive. And, as the scientific community has shown over the past few years it is transferable to many types of living organisms. The list of possible applications includes: genome editing, antibacterial and antimicrobial production, food safety, food production and plant breeding.
Rodolphe Barrangou is an Associate Professor in the Department of Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences at North Carolina State University, a NC State University Scholar, and the Todd R. Klaenhammer Distinguished Scholar in Probiotics Research. Dr. Barrangou is also an associate member of the Microbiology graduate program, the Biotechnology graduate program, the Functional Genomics graduate program, and the Center for Integrative Medicine. Dr. Barrangou is also an adjunct member of the Food Science Department at the Pennsylvania State University.
His CRISPR laboratory focuses on the evolution and functions of CRISPR-Cas systems, and their use for bacterial genotyping, building prokaryotic immunity, and Cas9-mediated genome editing in lactic acid bacteria used in food manufacturing.
Dr. Barrangou earned a BS in Biological Sciences from the Rene Descartes University in Paris, France; a MS in Biological Engineering from the University of Technology in Compiegne, France; a MS in Food Science from NC State University; a PhD in Genomics from NC State University; and a MBA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Dr. Barrangou and colleagues at DuPont established the biological role of CRISPR-Cas systems in adaptive immunity in bacteria, and used CRISPR-based technologies for bacterial genotyping of industrial cultures, and for the vaccination of dairy cultures against bacteriophages. After nine years in R&D and M&A at Danisco and DuPont, he joined the faculty at NC State University in 2013.
Dr. Barrangou is the recipient of the 2014 NC State Alumni Association Outstanding Research Award, and of the 2015 NC State Faculty Scholars Award. He has been on the Thomson Reuters Highly Cited Researchers list in 2014 and 2015. Dr. Barrangou is on the board of directors of Caribou Biosciences, a co-founder and member of the Scientific Advisory Board of Intellia Therapeutics, and a founding investor of Locus Biosciences.
Dr. Barrangou has published numerous articles on CRISPR-Cas systems and their use since 2005, including establishing their role as bacterial immune systems, and exploiting them for industrial applications. Following the initial work unraveling the biological function of CRISPR arrays and cas genes, subsequent studies and collaborative efforts identified PAMs as critical sequences for phage DNA targeting, showed that Cas9 is an endonuclease which can cleave plasmid and phage DNA, and provided the first proof of concept that CRISPR can be reprogrammed and transferred heterologously. Dr. Barrangou also established and co-hosted five international CRISPR meetings, and edited the first book on CRISPR-Cas systems.