It should be pointed out that George church has a huge conflict of interest in making such a statement, as he and Zhang are still affiliated with editas
, the company they founded together to capitalize on CRISPR technology. Doudna was part of the company for a time but left after the patent war blew up to found her own company, intellia
His statement that it is "anything but obvious" to adapt CRISPR to eukaryotic cells from bacteria would be refuted by pretty much any first year molecular biology student. Basically to get CRISPR working in mammalian cells is as simple as changing the DNA regulatory elements that drive expression of the Cas9 enzyme and the targeting RNA molecules from prokaryotic to mammalian elements. These elements are well understood and available essentially as "off-the-shelf" components and have been used to express literally thousands of non-native genes in mammalian cells by researchers for decades. And yes, this WAS the very obvious next step in the research, evident to many biologists. The "news and views" perspective article
in the same issue of Science describing the landmark paper from Doudna/Charpentier specifically points out the tantalizing possibility of genome editing for gene therapy:
"Jinek et al. realized that a highly specific, customizable RNA-directed DNA nuclease could be useful to edit whole genomes. Based on the 20-nucleotide guide section of the crRNA, the enzyme could theoretically introduce breaks at unique sites in any eukaryotic genome. As a proof of concept, the authors programmed Cas9 to cleave a plasmid carrying the gene encoding green fluorescent protein at predetermined loci using a single chimeric crRNA containing just the critical segment of the tracrRNA. DNA breaks induce cellular DNA repair pathways (9) and this can be harnessed to disrupt, insert, or repair specific genes of cells. Introducing DNA breaks at desired loci using just Cas9 and a chimeric crRNA would be a substantial improvement over existing gene-targeting technologies, such as zinc finger nucleases and transcription activator–like effector nucleases, as these require protein engineering for every new target locus (10). Efficient gene repair strategies in cells from patients, and the reintroduction of repaired cells, could become increasingly important for treating many genetic disorders.
The size of the egos and paydays involved precludes any hope of a logical conclusion to the patent fight.