In the last two years, the prokaryotic CRISPR-Cas RNA-guided genome defense system has been harnessed for genome engineering. RNA-based genome engineering is thus poised to become a transformative technology in synthetic biology, biotechnology and biomedicine. The CRISPR-associated endonuclease Cas9 forms the core component of a wide range of genome editing and gene expression control applications in a number or organisms and cell types. Our pioneering work in this field identified the RNA-guided endonuclease activity of Cas9 and provided structural insights into its molecular mechanism. In our future studies, we will aim to use structure-based protein engineering approaches as well as recently developed cellular delivery methodologies based on in vitro reconstituted Cas9-guide RNA complexes to address some of the current limitations of the CRISPR-Cas9 system and enhance its capabilities. These studies will help improve the efficacy, versatility and specificity of the technology, thereby augmenting its potential for use in human gene therapies.
Martin Jinek is a Tenure-Track Assistant Professor in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Zurich, Switzerland. His research is focused on protein-RNA interactions and macromolecular complexes that control gene expression and genome defense. In his studies, Martin Jinek uses biochemical and structural approaches to investigate these processes at the molecular level. Originally from the Czech Republic, Martin Jinek studied Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge (UK). In 2006, he received his PhD from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, Germany, where he carried out his doctoral research in the laboratory of Professor Elena Conti. He then moved to the University of California at Berkeley for postdoctoral research with Professor Jennifer Doudna, where his work led to the discovery of the biochemical function of Cas9 and made fundamental contributions towards developing the CRISPR-Cas9 system into a powerful genome editing technology. In 2013, Martin Jinek set up his independent research group in Zurich and was awarded a European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant. In further recognition of his work, Martin Jinek has received the John Kendrew Young Scientist Award of the EMBL (2014) and the Friedrich Miescher Award of the Swiss Society for Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (2015).