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Nobel Prize in Chemistry awarded to scientists who discovered CRISPR-Cas9

Posted: 12 October 2020 | | 1 comment

Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna have been given the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their discovery and development of CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing. 

CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has decided to award the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2020 to Emmanuelle Charpentier of the Max Planck Unit for the Science of Pathogens, Germany, and Jennifer Doudna of the University of California, Berkeley, US. The Nobel Prize is for the development of CRISPR-Cas9, a method for genome editing. 

According to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna discovered the CRISPR-Cas9 genetic scissors. Using 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 aid in curing inherited diseases.

Also, using the CRISPR-Cas9 genetic scissors, it is now possible to change DNA over the course of a few weeks. This used to be time-consuming, difficult and sometimes impossible work.

“There is enormous power in this genetic tool, which affects us all. It has not only revolutionised basic science, but also resulted in innovative crops and will lead to ground-breaking new medical treatments,” said Claes Gustafsson, chair of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry.

The discovery of CRISPR-Cas9 was made during Emmanuelle Charpentier’s studies of Streptococcus pyogenes, one of the bacteria that cause the most harm to humanity. She discovered a previously unknown molecule, tracrRNA. Her work showed that tracrRNA is part of bacteria’s ancient immune system, CRISPR-Cas, that disarms viruses by cleaving their DNA. Charpentier published her discovery in 2011. The same year, she initiated a collaboration with Jennifer Doudna, an experienced biochemist with vast knowledge of RNA. Together, they succeeded in recreating the bacteria’s genetic scissors in a test tube and simplifying the scissors’ molecular components so they were easier to use.

In another experiment, they then reprogrammed the genetic scissors. In their natural form, the scissors recognise DNA from viruses, but Charpentier and Doudna proved that they could be controlled so that they can cut any DNA molecule at a predetermined site. 

The academy highlights that since Charpentier and Doudna discovered the CRISPR-Cas9 genetic scissors in 2012 their use has exploded. This tool has contributed to many important discoveries in basic research and clinical trials of new cancer therapies are underway.

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