The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences on Wednesday awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry to Emmanuelle Charpentier of France and Jennifer A Doudna of the United States for the development of a method for genome editing.
Charpentier and Doudna have discovered one of gene technology’s sharpest tools: the CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors, a statement on the Nobel Prize website said. “Using these, researchers can change the DNA of animals, plants and microorganisms with extremely high precision,” the statement added. “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 come true.”
The award comes with a gold medal and 10 million krona [approximately Rs 8.20 crore]. The amount of prize money was increased recently as an adjustment in light of inflation.
Doudna and Charpentier are only the sixth and seventh women to be awarded the prize. Charpentier had discovered an unknown molecule while researching a common harmful bacteria, reported AFP. The molecule was part of the bacteria’s primitive immune system that disarmed the virus by slicing parts of its DNA.
Charpentier published her research in 2011 and began working with Doudna to recreate the bacteria’s genetic scissors, making the tool simpler for easier use and application to other genetic material. After this, the two were able to reprogramme the scissors to cut any DNA molecule at a predetermined spot. This helped the scientists rewrite the code of life where the DNA was sliced.
“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 announcement came a day after the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Roger Penrose, Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez for black hole discovery. One half of the prize was given to Penrose and the other half jointly to Genzel and Ghez.
On October 5, the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was on Monday awarded jointly to Americans Harvey J Alter and Charles Rice along with Briton Michael Houghton for the discovery of Hepatitis C virus.