STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN — The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences on Oct. 7 awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry jointly to Jennifer A. Doudna, PhD, of the United States and Emmanuelle Charpentier, PhD, of Germany. The two women developed CRISPR-Cas9, a gene-editing technology that allows scientists to rewrite DNA in any organism with efficiency and precision. CRISPR-Cas9 presents opportunities for advancements in agriculture, biology and medicine.
In agriculture, researchers are applying CRISPR-Cas9 to engineer pest-resistant and disease-resistant crops as well as crop varieties that are healthier and more nutritious.
Doudna is the Li Ka Shing Chancellor’s Chair in Biomedical and Health Sciences and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at the University of California in Berkeley.
“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,” she said. “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.”
Charpentier is director of the Max Planck Unit for the Science of Pathogens in Berlin.
“I am overwhelmed and deeply honored to receive a prize of such high distinction and look forward to video-celebrating this exceptional award with my team members, colleagues, family and friends,” she said. “My special thoughts go to my former lab members, especially Elitza Deltcheva and Krzysztof Chylinski, who have contributed significantly to the deciphering of the CRISPR-Cas9 mechanism in bacteria and my colleagues of the field of CRISPR biology. This award obviously underlines the importance and relevance of fundamental research in the field of microbiology.”
Doudna and Charpentier began collaborating after meeting at a scientific conference in Puerto Rico. In 2012 they had a paper published in the journal Science. They proposed CRISPR-Cas9 could be a tool for editing plant or animal genomes and customized to delete or add specific strands of DNA.
Laboratories around the world now use the CRISPR-Cas9 technology, which may assist in developing a next generation of crops for a warming planet, in offering new ways to treat and cure disease, and in understanding the function of living systems with speed and clarity.
“There is enormous power in this genetic tool, which affects us all,” said Claes Gustafsson, chair of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry. “It has not only revolutionized basic science but also resulted in innovative crops and will lead to ground-breaking new medical treatments.”