On October 7, 2020, it was announced that The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2020 jointly to Emmanuelle Charpentier, PhD, Max Planck Unit for the Science of Pathogens, Berlin, Germany and Jennifer A. Doudna, PhD, University of California, Berkeley, USA “for the development of a method for genome editing.” Dr. Charpentier (at right in photo) and Dr. Doudna (at left in photo) discovered one of gene technology’s sharpest tools: the CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors. Using these, researchers can change the DNA of animals, plants, and microorganisms with extremely high precision. 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. 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 impossible work. Using the CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors, it is now possible to change the code of life over the course of a few weeks. “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, MD, PhD, Chair of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry. As so often in science, the discovery of these genetic scissors was unexpected. During Dr. Charpentier’s studies of Streptococcus pyogenes, one of the bacteria that cause the most harm to humanity, she discovered a previously unknown molecule, tracrRNA. Her work showed that tracrRNA is part of bacteria’s ancient immune system, CRISPR/Cas, that disarms viruses by cleaving their DNA.
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