The recent shocking reports about a human genome editing experiment have led to increased murmurings about the potential pitfalls of improved access to molecular technologies. Sharing speeds science. That’s been the driving concept behind Addgene since its founding. Nowhere has this proved more prescient than in the acceleration of basic research using CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing tools. It would be a tremendous loss of efficiency and funding if this rogue experiment resulted in a reduction in repository deposits and the sharing of research materials.

Addgene shipment
Part of a typical daily Addgene shipment: one of three carts (plus two pallets for dry ice) carrying more than 750 orders. “The UPS guy just laughed when he saw it.” [Thomas DeNatale, Addgene]
Addgene is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to accelerate research and discovery by improving access to useful research materials and information. Since the company was founded in 2004, scientists have shared more than 70,000 unique published reagent samples via Addgene’s repository. We have also fulfilled requests for more than 1 million plasmid, viral vector, and other material types to scientists in 100 countries.

Checks and Balances

Addgene makes it easy for scientists around the world to access shared reagents and also includes many checks on this system. The company vets all requesters to confirm that they are in legitimate research labs at accredited research organizations. These parent institutions are the only places where Addgene requested materials can be physically delivered.

In addition, the UBMTA signed by all Addgene requesters stipulates that the materials are to be used “solely for teaching and academic research purposes and will not be used in human subjects, in clinical trials, or for diagnostic purposes involving human subjects without the written consent of the provider.” To be sure, we are aware that unethical scientists might not adhere to this agreement, but with the current universal accessibility of gene synthesis services, any molecular tool can be accessed relatively easy.

Driving Discovery

The untold story—and perhaps the most underreported topic related to CRISPR—is the acceleration of basic discovery research as a result of novel molecular technologies. CRISPR has enabled rapid development of new tools and techniques that have dramatically accelerated basic research and discovery and enabled discoveries previously impossible to achieve.

Addgene has helped ensure that these discoveries can happen everywhere. The company received a deposit from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences that will allow scientists to use CRISPR-based methods to more easily address the kinetics of epigenetic editing. A kit to enable the easier study of food plant genomes was shared from Pennsylvania State University. A lab at the University of Helsinki recently shared plasmids from a report demonstrating easier reprogramming of primary human skin fibroblasts into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) with a CRISPR activators.

Or consider the usefulness of a CRISPR-based system from a lab at the University of Texas Southwestern to probe chromatin-regulating protein complexes and long-range DNA interactions. It’s been distributed more than 100 times to scientists in 25 different countries. The plasmids they created for this system were derived from other plasmids they requested from Addgene. Is it any wonder CRISPR technology development is happening so efficiently? There are hundreds of more examples like these. Funders take note: If you want your funded research to be impactful, require your grantees to share.

Sharing does indeed accelerate more reproducible science. We should work together as a community to make the most of the limited resources we have. It’s vital that ethically minded scientists have full access to materials to continue to increase understanding of genome editing or only the less trustworthy scientists will be left advancing and accessing the technology.

Scientists and nonscientists alike are struggling with the correct way to deploy the awesome power of CRISPR-mediated genome editing in the therapeutic space. It’s important that we don’t lose sight of the myriad benefits that CRISPR technologies bring to basic research and the expansion of scientific knowledge.


Joanne Kamens, Ph.D., ([email protected]) is the executive director of Addgene, in Watertown, MA.