2020 Nobel Prize: 2 scientists awarded Prize in Chemistry for developing CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors

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Emmanuelle Charpentier from France and Jennifer Doudna from the United States of America were awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry “for the development of a method for genome editing.”

The two scientists have discovered gene technology’s sharpest tools: the CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors, a genome editing breakthrough that has revolutionized biomedicine. By using this, researchers can successfully modify the DNA of animals, plants, and microorganisms with a high degree of precision, a process essential in finding out about life’s inner workings.

However, earlier, this process was time-consuming and cumbersome. With the discovery of CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors, the code of life can be changed within a few weeks. This power of CRISPR/Cas9 has opened up newer and previously unchartered avenues in the fields of biology, agriculture and medicine.

“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,” says Claes Gustafsson, chair of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry.

This genetic tool has resulted in innovative treatments for fatal genetic diseases such as cancer, which scientists believe can be cured. The technology has also helped to alter the genetic code of crops to withstand pests, mould, famines and droughts, building crop resilience.

Born in France in 1968, Emmanuelle Charpentier is affiliated with the Max Planck Unit for the Science of Pathogens, Berlin, Germany. American born Jennifer Doudna is associated with the University of California, Berkeley in the USA.

“My wish is that this will provide a positive message to the young girls who would like to follow the path of science, and to show them that women in science can also have an impact through the research that they are performing,” Charpentier said in a statement on winning the honour.

“This great honor recognizes the history of CRISPR and the collaborative story of harnessing it into a profoundly powerful engineering technology that gives new hope and possibility to our society,” said Doudna. “What started as a curiosity‐driven, fundamental discovery project has now become the breakthrough strategy used by countless researchers working to help improve the human condition. I encourage continued support of fundamental science as well as public discourse about the ethical uses and responsible regulation of CRISPR technology.”

In winning the prestigious prize, they have become only the sixth and seventh women to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Marie Curie was the first woman to have been awarded this prestigious award in 1911. The other four researchers to receive this award are Curie’s daughter Irène Joliot-Curie in 1935, Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin in 1964, Ada Yonath in 2009, and Frances H. Arnold in 2018.

The two scientists will share 10 million Swedish kronor award.

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