It has been awarded to Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna
The 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded to Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna “for the development of a method for genome editing,” reported the Swedish Academy of Sciences.
They both discovered one of the sharpest tools in gene technology: the CRISPR / Cas9 genetic scissors. With these, researchers can change the DNA of animals, plants and microorganisms with extremely high precision. This technology has had a revolutionary impact on the life sciences, is contributing to new cancer therapies and may make the dream of curing inherited diseases a reality.
The French Charpentier is currently the director of the Max Planck Unit for Pathogen Science in Berlin. American Doudna is a professor at Berkeley and a researcher at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
Researchers need to modify genes in cells if they want to discover the inner workings of life. This used to be slow, difficult, and sometimes impossible work. Using the CRISPR / Cas9 genetic scissors, it is now possible to change the life code within a few weeks.
“There is enormous power in this genetic tool, affecting us all. It has not only revolutionized basic science, it has also spawned groundbreaking crops and will lead to groundbreaking new medical treatments,” Claes Gustafsson says in a statement, Chairman of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry.
As is often the case in science, the discovery of these genetic scissors was unexpected. During Emmanuelle Charpentier's studies on Streptococcus pyogenes, one of the bacteria that cause the most damage to mankind, she discovered a previously unknown molecule, tracrRNA. Their work showed that ARNtracr is part of the ancient bacterial immune system, CRISPR / Cas, that disarms viruses by cleaving their DNA.
Charpentier published his discovery in 2011. The same year, he began a collaboration with Jennifer Doudna, an experienced biochemist with vast knowledge of RNA. Together, they managed to recreate the genetic scissors of the bacteria in a test tube and simplified the molecular components of the scissors to make them easier to use.
In an epochal experiment, they later reprogrammed the genetic scissors. In their natural form, the scissors recognize the DNA of viruses, but Charpentier and Doudna showed that they could be controlled to cut any DNA molecule at a predetermined site. Where DNA is cut, it is easy to rewrite the code of life.
Since Charpentier and Doudna discovered CRISPR / Cas9 genetic scissors in 2012, their use has exploded. This tool has contributed to many important discoveries in basic research, and plant researchers have been able to develop crops that resist mold, pests, and drought. In medicine, clinical trials of new cancer therapies are underway, and the dream of being able to cure inherited diseases is about to come true. These genetic scissors have brought the life sciences into a new age and, in many ways, are bringing the greatest benefit to humanity.