TIME magazine will announce its 2016 Person of the Year on Dec. 7 and at least one MIT alumnus is included in the 30 people and groups nominated for the honor. According to the magazine, the Person of the Year is decided by one question: Which person, group, idea, or object—positively or negatively—has done the most to influence the events of 2016?
Among the nominees are the “CRISPR Scientists,” a multi-disciplinary group of researchers that includes MIT faculty and alumni. CRISPR (pronounced “crisper”) stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats. The acronym is often used to describe the larger CRISPR-Cas9 system, a genome-editing technology that can allow scientists to modify any target gene in a living cell.
According to MIT Technology Review, the technology could allow researchers to correct mutations in the human genome to treat genetic causes of disease, and modify crops in hopes of making them yield more food and resist drought and disease more effectively.
MIT News has profiled many of the MIT-connected researchers involved with CRISPR in 2016.
- Professor David Gifford ’76 and post-doctoral researcher Nisha Rajagopal
“Mapping regulatory elements,” Jan. 27
- Assistant Professor Daniel Anderson and post-doctoral researchers Wen Xue and Hao Yin
“Curing disease by repairing faulty genes,” Feb. 1
- Associate Professor Feng Zhang
“Toward a better understanding of the brain,” March 22
- Jonathan S Gootenberg ’13 and Omar Abudayyeh ’12
“New CRISPR system for targeting RNA,” June 2
- Professor Sangeeta Bhatia SM ’93, PhD ’97 and post-doctoral researcher Piyush Jain
“Using light to control genome editing,” Aug. 25
TIME’s editors ultimately determine the Person of the Year but the magazine is also running an online reader’s choice poll, which end Sunday, Dec.4. As of Nov. 29, the scientists had received four percent in the poll, and India Prime Minister Narendra Modi led with 18 percent.
For this year’s award, the magazine utilized an algorithm that used internet traffic to determine which days in 2016 each nominee received the most attention. For the CRISPR scientists, those dates were August 18, when researchers announced they had potentially found a way to disable a mutant gene as a form of human therapy, and October 5, when the group surprisingly did not win a Nobel Prize.
If the CRISPR scientists are selected as Persons of the Year, the MIT alumni in the group would join a list of at least six previous alumni, including:
- Pardis Sabeti ’97 (2014), geneticist and Harvard University professor who was part of a group that combatted the spread of the Ebola virus.
- Ben Bernanke PhD ’79 (2009), Federal Reserve Chairman who oversaw the Reserve’s response to the global financial crisis. [Read Bernanke’s 2006 MIT Commencement address.]
- Dr. David Ho (1996), 1978 graduate of the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, CEO and director of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center. [Read Ho’s 1998 MIT Commencement address.]
- American Scientists (1960), which included Charles Stark Draper ’26, SM ’28, ScD ’38; William Shockley PhD ’36; Robert Woodward ’36, PhD ’37; and former professor and provost Charles Hard Townes.