When Time Magazine named Donald Trump, the “president of the divided states of America”, as its Person of the Year for 2016, not many were surprised.
Zhang, who was selected for his role in the development of the CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing system, is a core institute member of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard University, according to MIT news.
Sharing the recognition with Zhang for the achievements in CRISPR are Carl June at the University of Pennsylvania, Emmanuelle Charpentier at the Max Planck Institute in Berlin, Kathy Niakan at the Francis Crick Institute in London, and Jennifer Doudna at the University of California at Berkeley.
“Feng Zhang is a visionary scientist,” BCS department head Jim DiCarlo was quoted as saying.
“His work on CRISPR-Cas9 has transformed biological science, enabling researchers to make targeted mutations in genomic DNA with far more ease and precision than any previously available gene-editing tool.”
He is also the W. M. Keck Career Development Associate Professor in MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences (BCS) with a joint appointment in the Department of Biological Engineering and a lead investigator at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at the institute.
Back in 2013, Zhang’s research team was the first to report on CRISPR-based gene editing in cells of mammals. Their work would eventually become the most highly-cited paper in CRISPR research.
The CRISPR-Cas9 components, which the team developed, were then shared with more than 30,000 labs, training many scientists on their application.
Since then, Zhang and his team have continued to improve the gene-editing tools, enabling the development of new ways to treat neurological and psychiatric disorders.
Zhang, who joined MIT and the Broad Institute in 2011, previously spent one year at the Harvard Society of Fellows as a junior fellow. Working with professors Paola Arlotta and George Church, Zhang began to shift his focus on gene editing.
Over the years, Zhang has received numerous awards for his work on CRISPR, which is now being hailed as one of the most exciting breakthroughs that could deliver massive change in medical technology.
“Having this technology enables humans to alter human evolution,” says fellow CRISPR researcher Doudna. “Thinking about all the different ways it can be employed, both for good and potentially not for very good, I felt it would be irresponsible as someone involved in the earliest stages of the technology not to get out and talk about it.”