Jennifer A. Doudna, a biochemist at the University of California at Berkeley, and Emmanuelle Charpentier, a French microbiologist, won the 2020 Nobel Prize in chemistry Wednesday for their work developing the revolutionary gene-editing tool CRISPR-Cas9. The tool can change the DNA of animals, plants, and microorganisms with great precision, and is being used as a cancer therapy and helping to cure inherited diseases.
This was the first time two women jointly won a Nobel in chemistry. “I wish that this will provide a positive message, specifically, to young girls who would like to follow the path of science,” Charpentier told reporters Wednesday morning.
Ancient microorganisms developed the first version of CRISPR as their immune system. Because bacteria use it to slice out foreign genetic material once viruses invade, CRISPR-Cas9 is frequently likened to molecular scissors.
It can hunt for specific sections of DNA and snip those out: The human cell contains about 6 billion chemical units of DNA called base pairs. CRISPR’s tremendous power is that it can find and cut just one. What’s more, when manipulated by scientists, CRISPR has the flexibility of a word processor — with functions such as find-and-replace, find-and-delete or simply find.
“We can now change the genetic information in any cell in any organism,” said Claes Gustafsson, chairman of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry.