Dr Francisco Juan (Francis) Martínez Mojica is a molecular biologist and microbiologist at the University of Alicante. He studied Biology at the University of Valencia and obtained a PhD from the University of Alicante in collaboration with the Université Paris-Sud (France). His doctoral thesis focused on the response of extreme halophile archaea to environmental stresses. After completing his PhD, Francis moved to the University of Utah (USA) to study bacterial physiology, and subsequently to the University of Oxford (UK) to study genetic regulations and DNA structure. In 1997, he moved back to Alicante as a Professor, a position that he still holds, where he founded the Molecular Microbiology research group to study the function of CRISPR as genetic markers of Escherichia coli.
Francis’ research includes the discovery of the CRISPR/Cas mechanism, which was a breakthrough in microbiology, immunology, and molecular biology. During his PhD working with archaea, he discovered regularly spaced repeats that were initially termed tandem repeats or TREPs and then renamed to short regularly spaced repeats or SRSRs. In 2002, another group identified genes next to the repeats in different microorganisms and Francis proposed a common term for those repeats: CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) whilst the associated genes were called cas, an abbreviation for CRISPR-associated. After that, his Molecular Microbiology research group found that one of the CRISPR was identical to another one found in a virus able to infect E. coli, suggesting that this sequence was inserted in the ancestor E. coli genome when infected by the virus. They also revealed that CRISPR protects the bacteria from infection by a virus with the same sequence that the one in the bacterial genome, meaning a type of immunization mechanism of the bacteria or archaea against the virus. This discovery, published in 2005, confirmed the presence of CRISPR-cas in 50 bacterial species of different taxonomic groups. The discovery of CRISPR/Cas has been one of the major impactful discoveries in science and it has been proven a successful genome editing technology, which lead to the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry to Professor Jennifer A. Doudna and Professor Emmanuelle Charpentier for their work on CRISPR-Cas9—a method to edit DNA.
Francis has received numerous awards, including the Rey Jaime I award to fundamental science in 2016, the Alberto Sols prize in 2017, the Albany Medical Center Prize in 2017, or the University of Alicante Gold Medal in 2020. He has received honorary degrees from University of Murcia, International University Menéndez Pelayo (Spain), and the National University of Quilmes (Argentina).