It was when he worked in a microbiology lab one summer in college that Jonathan Strecker found his calling as a scientist.
“I fell in love with the process of thinking of problems and designing experiments and being able to discover something new that no one had ever observed before,” he said.
Early on, Strecker was interested in how DNA got repaired, and in graduate school he studied how cells respond to double-stranded breaks. Cells are constantly patching up their DNA, and “this has to work flawlessly for life to continue,” he said. Otherwise, it can lead to potentially dangerous mutations.
A more recent focus in Strecker’s scientific career has been figuring out how to develop next-generation CRISPR genome-editing technology. As a postdoctoral researcher at the Broad Institute in the lab of CRISPR pioneer Feng Zhang, Strecker led research that showed how large sequences could be inserted into a genome at a given location. Importantly, the system, called CAST, doesn’t require breaking the DNA, so there’s no relying on the cell to make its own repairs.
The research was conducted in bacteria, but Strecker and his colleagues think it could work in other types of cells, including human. If it does, CAST opens the door to treating more diseases than other CRISPR complexes.
“I fell in love with the process of thinking of problems and designing experiments and being able to discover something new.”
Outside the lab, the native Canadian likes spending time outdoors and baking.
“It’s kind of like science,” he said, “but you can eat it at the end.”
— Andrew Joseph