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High precision ‘genomic editing’ technique and its ethical issues will be opening the CNIO’s prestigious series of conferences


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Francisco Mojica, pioneering researcher of CRISPR, will be taking the floor on Friday 16 September. Francisco J. Ayala, will do so on Friday, 14 October

The CNIO Distinguished Seminars 2016/17 include speeches by 22 international experts on cancer, ageing and other fields of Biomedicine. The Spanish palaeontologist, José Luis Sanz, one of the world’s major experts in Dinosaurs will also be intervening

The lectures are open to the public and have the support of the Fundació Banc Sabadell and the French Embassy in Spain

The revolutionary genomic editing techniques that are becoming widespread in laboratories – and related discussions on ethics – began with the findings of Francisco Mojica, a microbiologist at the University of Alicante, who, nevertheless, saw how major scientific journals rejected his papers. That was thirteen years ago. Today, Mojica is the epicentre of one of the most active fields of biology and he will be speaking about it at the conference next Friday. “The history behind the CRISPR craze” will be opening the new edition of the CNIO Distinguished Seminars.

This already traditional series of prestigious scientific conferences, open to the public, will be gathering 22 experts from some of the major scientific institutions around the world at the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO). The cycle is sponsored by the Fundació Banc Sabadell, which has invited Mojica and five other speakers, and by the French Embassy in Spain.

The sessions are open to the public and are always held on Fridays (complete programme).

The conferences will present the work being performed and the findings in fields related to cancer and cardiovascular diseases; regenerative medicine; ageing and longevity; brain development; and the ethical concerns of biomedical research. The speakers include the Spanish biologist, Francisco José Ayala, expert in evolution and bioethics – who will be delivering the second speech -; Tom Kirkwood, a British specialist in ageing; and Elaine Fuchs from the USA, a pioneer in the study of skin regeneration.

However, not everything will be about Biomedicine. The Spanish palaeontologist José Luis Sanz, from the Autonomous University of Madrid, will also be taking part. His research has been key in determining that today’s birds descend directly from dinosaurs.

About the first two sessions

Friday, 16 September, 12:00, CNIO Auditorium. With the collaboration of the Fundació Banc Sabadell. Title: The history behind “the CRISPR craze”.

Francisco Juan Martínez Mojica (Elche, 1963) is professor of microbiology at the University of Alicante. He graduated in Biology at the University of Valencia in 1986. When he was a doctoral student, he found the DNA sequences that function as highly accurate molecular scissors – to which he subsequently applied the acronym CRISPR- while studying the genome of the archaea, Haloferax mediterranei, which lives in the salt mines in Alicante. He later identified these sequences in many other organisms and discovered that they were microbial autovaccinations, i.e. they resemble the memory, printed in the genome, of an infection that the organism has overcome. Towards the middle of the last decade, the papers in which he explained this breakthrough were rejected by the leading research journals. Mojica has been a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Utah (USA) and the University of Oxford (UK). In 1997, the University of Alicante granted him a position as Associate Professor of Microbiology.

Friday, 14 October, 12:00, CNIO Auditorium. With the collaboration of the Fundació Banc Sabadell. Title: Between Utopia and Hades: Genetic Engineering and Mankind’s Future.

Francisco J. Ayala (Madrid, 1934) studied biology at Salamanca and was ordained a Dominican priest in 1960. He moved to the United States in 1961, where he obtained his PhD at the University of Columbia (1964) and then went on to the Rockefeller University and, in 1971, to the University of California at Davis. In 1987, he moved to the University of California at Irvine. He has investigated population and evolutionary genetics. In addition, he has studied parasitic diseases affecting hundreds of millions of people, such as Chagas disease and malaria. His other fields of study include philosophy, bioethics and the relationship between science and religion. He is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society. He was a scientific adviser for President Bill Clinton and was appointed President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which publishes the journal, Science.

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