Nobel Prize in Chemistry For The Development of Genetic Scissors

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(— October 8, 2020) —  France’s Emanuel Charpentier and America’s Jennifer A. Dowden are the winners of this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry for developing a method of genome modification, a technique is known as CRISPR, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said.

They have developed so-called “molecular scissors” that can modify human genes, which is a revolutionary breakthrough.

The award is given to them for the development of a “gene modification method” with a new tool that can “rewrite the code of life”, the jury for the prize in Stockholm stated, announcing the winners of the awards.

“There is enormous power in this genetic tool, which affects us all. It has not only revolutionized 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.

Researchers need to modify genes in cells if they are to find out about life’s inner workings. This used to be time-consuming, difficult, and sometimes practically impossible work. Using the CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors, it is now possible to change the code of life over the course of a mere few weeks.

This genetic tool was discovered unexpectedly, as is the case too often in science. During Emmanuelle Charpentier’s studies of Streptococcus pyogenes, one of the bacteria that cause the most harm to humanity, she discovered a previously unknown molecule, tracrRNA, which is part of bacteria’s ancient immune system, CRISPR/Cas that has the ability to split molecules of DNA.  

Charpentier and Doudna discovered the CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors in 2012, but they received the Nobel Prize in 2020 because their discovery is now exploited widely and has contributed to many important discoveries in genetic research.

Genetic tools are crucial for scientists in the pursuit of finding a cure for inherited diseases. These genetic scissors have taken the life sciences into a new epoch and, in many ways, are bringing the greatest benefit to humankind, the Nobel Prize committee said in a statement.

The Frenchwoman (51) and the American (56) are the sixth and seventh women to receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry since it was first awarded in 1901.

The prestigious award comes with a gold medal and a cash prize of 10 million crowns, generally over 1.1 million dollars.

Last year’s Nobel Prize winners in chemistry are John B. Goodinaf, M. Stanley Whittingham, and Akira Yoshino for the development of lithium-ion batteries.