CRISPR’s Adaptation to Genome Editing Earns Chemistry Nobel

CRISPR’s Adaptation to Genome Editing Earns Chemistry Nobel

This year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded jointly to Emmanuelle Charpentier of the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology and Jennifer Doudna of the University of California, Berkeley, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced today (October 7). They are recognized for their pioneering work in developing CRISPR technology, which has revolutionized the field of gene editing.

Jennifer Doudna
WIKIMEDIA, DUNCAN HULL

“Today’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry recognizes CRISPR-Cas9, a super-selective and precise gene-editing tool where chemistry plays an incredibly important role,” Luis Echegoyen, the president of the American Chemical Society, of which Doudna is a member, says in a statement. “This discovery, originally derived from a natural defense mechanism in bacteria against viruses, will have untold applications in treating and curing genetic diseases and fighting cancer, as well as impacts on agricultural and other areas. The future for this technique is indeed bright and promising.”

“I don’t know quite what to say. I’m about as shocked as I’ve ever been,” Doudna tells The Scientist, reacting to the news of her award. “I’m really so grateful.”

CRISPR-based technology allows scientists to precisely manipulate DNA, a desirable ability for many fields. CRISPR has contributed to discoveries across disciplines, conferring mold and pest resistance to important crops, leading to new cancer therapies, and, more recently, repairing damage within mitochondrial DNA. During the COVID-19 pandemic, CRISPR has also been used in new diagnostic tools for detecting the virus.

“This type of research will always lead potentially to a way to discover new pathways that could be useful for developing therapeutics against bacteria,” Charpentier said during a call with the Nobel Prize committee, “but also as a way to find new mechanisms to target genes and their expression.”