Now Zhang is exploring other CRISPR systems throughout the microbial world, borrowing different strategies to expand scientists’ molecular toolboxes. Using CRISPR enzymes he’s discovered, scientists can edit a broader array of sequences – not just in DNA, but in RNA, too.
“One reason CRISPR is so exciting is because it is reprogrammable – researchers can customize it and use it to do what they want to do,” Zhang says. Similar tools that recognize other biological molecules – proteins or sugars, for example – would be incredibly powerful, he says. One day, they could help scientists efficiently manipulate such molecules to treat disease. “We are borrowing and learning from nature, the best inventor, the components and principles needed to develop these technologies.”
Ultimately, Zhang wants to get powerful new research tools into the hands of active researchers. He hopes his work will continue to move science forward, and bring researchers closer to understanding and treating disease, and particularly unlocking the mysteries of the brain.