The 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Emmanuel Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna for developing the revolutionary method of genome editing, CRISPR.
Using this “genetic scissors”, researchers can modify the DNA of animals, plants, and microorganisms with high accuracy. This technology has had a major impact on the life sciences, helping researchers develop new cancer treatments, and possibly fulfilling dreams of curing inherited diseases in the future.
“There is great power in this genetic weapon. It has not only revolutionized the fundamental sciences but also created innovative grains and will make it possible to develop new methods of treatment in the future.” – Says Klay Gustafson, chairman of the Nobel Committee on Chemistry.
The discovery of genetic scissors was a surprise. Emmanuel Charpentier was studying the bacterium Streptococcus pyogenes when he discovered a previously unknown molecule tracrRNA in the bacterial immune system. This system, known as CRISPR / Cas, “disarms” viruses by splitting their DNA.
In 2011, after publishing his paper, Charpentier began collaborating with Professor Doudna of the University of California to create these “molecular scissors” in a test tube. In the wild, they recognize only viral DNA, but Charpentier and Doudna have shown that they can be reprogrammed to cut any DNA molecule to a predetermined location, allowing us to copy the code of life. Commenting on their discovery, chemist Pernilla Wittung-Staffshed noted that “the ability to cut DNA wherever we want has revolutionized the life sciences.”
“I want this to be a positive message, especially for young girls who want science … to show them that a study by a female scientist could have a big impact.” Says Charpentier.