The Swedish Academy of Sciences has awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry to Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna for “developing a genome editing method”. His discoveries have “revolutionized the life sciences,” the Academy said during the announcement.
The 51-year-old Frenchwoman and 56-year-old American became the sixth and seventh women to win a Nobel Prize in chemistry since 1901.
In June 2012, the two geneticists and colleagues describe in the journal Science a new tool capable of simplifying genome modification. The mechanism is called Crispr / Cas9 (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, or Regularly Spaced Clustered Short Palindromic Repeats) and is nicknamed “molecular scissors.”
According to the doctor of Law specialized in Bioethics Vicente Bellver, “it is not the first technology that allows gene editing, nor was the Ford T the first car to be manufactured, but it is the one that manages to do it accurately, cheaply and easily” .
While gene therapy involves inserting a normal gene into cells that have a faulty gene, such as a Trojan horse, to do the job that this bad gene doesn’t, Crispr goes further: instead of adding a new gene , the tool modifies an existing one.
It’s easy to use, inexpensive, and allows scientists to go and cut DNA exactly where they want, for example to create or correct a genetic mutation and treat rare diseases.
The discovery, although recent, has been cited for several years as a candidate for the Nobel Prize and was among the favorites this year.
But it is also the subject of patent controversies, particularly with Chinese-American researcher Feng Zhang, leading some to believe that the payoff would not come this year.
The two researchers have already been the object of distinctions: the Breakthrough Prize (2015), the Princess of Asturias Prize for Science (2015) and the Kavli Prize for nanoscience in Norway (2018).
According to William Kaelin, winner of last year’s Nobel Prize in Medicine, “genetic modification by Crispr is by far the most important” of the decade’s discoveries in medicine. The two researchers were also nominated for the Nobel Prize in Medicine.
Emmanuelle Charpentier is director of the Max Planck Unit for Pathogen Science. Jennifer A. Doudna, a professor at the University of California Berkeley.
There will be no ceremony for COVID-19
The prestigious award comes with a gold medal and a prize money of 10 million crowns (over $ 1.1 million), courtesy of a legacy left over a century ago by the award’s creator, Swedish inventor Alfred. Nobel. The amount was recently increased to adjust for inflation.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic this year there will be no awards ceremony, but the winners will be received with all honors “as soon as possible,” the Academy said.
On Monday, the Nobel Committee awarded the Medicine Prize to Americans Harvey J. Alter and Charles M. Rice and British scientist Michael Houghton for the discovery of the hepatitis C virus that wreaks havoc on the liver.
Tuesday’s physics award went to Roger Penrose from Great Britain, Reinhard Genzel from Germany and Andrea Ghez from the United States for their breakthroughs in understanding the mysteries of cosmic black holes.
The other 2020 Nobel Prizes yet to be announced are those for Literature, Peace and Economics.