The CRISPR gene editing tool ranks among genetic science's most groundbreaking developments. Now, the two scientists behind the technology are being recognized with the highest honor in their field. As CNN reports, Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna have been awarded 2020's Nobel Prize in Chemistry, making them the first women to jointly receive the prize.
While studying the bacteria Streptococcus pyogenes, French scientist Emmanuelle Charpentier found the previously undiscovered molecule tracrRNA. This molecule is the key to CRISPR-Cas9, the ancient bacterial immune system that makes gene-editing possible. Charpentier later teamed up with American biochemist Jennifer Doudna to reprogram CRISPR-Cas9 into something researchers could easily manipulate.
A press release announcing the winners of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry reads, "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. Where the DNA is cut it is then easy to rewrite the code of life."
The CRISPR-Cas9 genetic scissors Doudna and Charpentier engineered have opened countless doors to scientists. The technology allows researchers to precisely alter the DNA of living organisms, making it possible to breed better plants and possibly fight cancer and prevent genetic diseases.
Charpentier and Doudna's joint win is a milestone for women in chemistry. In addition to being the first women to receive the Nobel Prize in chemistry together, they are just the sixth and seventh women to win the chemistry award in the prize's history.