1 December 2020 – When new EMBO Young Investigator Debojyoti Chakraborty was invited to present his work at an EMBO | EMBL Symposium in 2015 he did not expect to be enticed into an entirely new field. But then he sat down for a talk by gene editing-pioneer Jennifer Doudna. “There was hardly a spot left in the entire auditorium and her presentation was breathtaking – I thought right there, if I were to lead a lab, then gene editing would be my focus,” recalls Chakraborty, who heads an RNA biology group at the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology in New Delhi, India.
Fast forward five years and Chakraborty’s team uses CRISPR/Cas gene editing strategies to study disorders such as megalencephaly and sickle cell anemia, amongst a host of other techniques. His team also recently developed a rapid, portable CRISPR diagnostic test to identify carriers of sickle cell disease, something that has been swiftly adapted for COVID-19. “When the pandemic struck, we realised the same types of technologies could be used for COVID diagnosis and have developed a paper-strip test that has been approved for use,” he says. “During the past months we have taken the test through prototype, licensing, regulatory approvals, to its launch this November. We never imagined how it could be to go end-to-end from an idea to a product so quickly – it’s been a whirlwind.”
Connecting basic science to treatments and diagnoses has become a major motivation for Chakraborty. “Most of my group are focused on basic research, but at the same time genome editing presents an opportunity to make our science directly applicable to society. I am over the moon about becoming an EMBO Young Investigator: I have always had great interactions with the EMBO community, and one of the most important things for me will be networking opportunities and connections with researchers from around the world.”