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For many people, CRISPR plus China equals the biophysicist He Jiankui, who infamously used the genome editor last year to alter the DNA of two human embryos that would become twin girls. Before his announcement, He was little-known within the country's CRISPR community, which has grown rapidly and is now challenging—and by some measures surpassing—the United States in its use of the powerful tool (see graphics below).

A better representative of CRISPR in China is plant biologist Li Jiayang of the Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology in Beijing. Li left the country in 1985 for his graduate education, as have many of China's best and brightest young scientists over the past few decades, and then returned home in 1995 to focus on manipulating plant DNA. Li, who recently ended a stint as head of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, says he struggled for years to make pinpoint genome edits. CRISPR gave him a simple, fast way to do just that, turbocharging his efforts to modify rice. "Now, suddenly, the dreams come true," says Li, whose lab is humming at 9 p.m. on a Wednesday with two dozen members of his team running experiments.

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Category: Science