12 October 2020

Two scientists whose work could revolutionise the treatment of haematological diseases have been awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

Emmanuelle Charpentier, of the Max Planck Unit for the Science of Pathogens in Berlin, Germany, and Jennifer Doudna from the University of California, Berkeley, USA, were recognised for pioneering the development of the CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing tool.

The revolutionary technology enables precise edits to the genome. Cheap, precise, and easy-to-use, CRISPR/Cas9 has transformed life sciences and is contributing to the development of new cancer therapies.

Claes Gustafsson, chair of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry, said: “There is enormous power in this genetic tool, which affects us all. It has not only revolutionised basic science, but also resulted in innovative crops and will lead to ground-breaking new medical treatments.”

Charpentier was studying Streptococcus pyogenes when she discovered a previously unknown molecule, tracrRNA. She showed that tracrRNA is part of CRISPR/Cas, bacteria’s ancient immune system, which disarms viruses by cleaving their DNA.

After publishing her discovery in 2011, she collaborated with Jennifer Doudna to recreate the bacteria’s genetic scissors in a test tube. They then reprogrammed the genetic scissors to cut any DNA molecule at a predetermined site.

Their pioneering work has led to clinical trials of new cancer therapies and work that could see cures for inherited diseases such as sickle cell anaemia.

Congratulating the pair on their Nobel prize, Edith Heard, director general of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), said: “The beauty of these discoveries is that they stemmed from purely fundamental, curiosity-driven research. Charpentier and Doudna and their colleagues were striving to understand the defence strategies bacteria use – CRISPR-Cas9 microbial adaptive immune system – and came up with discoveries that have transformed the life sciences.”


Source: Nobel Prize/EMBL