Two scientists have been awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for developing the tools to edit DNA.
Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna were announced as this year’s winners for their work on the technology of genome editing.
Their discovery, known as Crispr-Cas9, is a way of making specific and precise changes to the DNA contained in living cells.
Commenting on her win, Prof Emmanuelle Charpentier, from the Max Planck Unit for the Science of Pathogens in Berlin, said she was emotional on learning about the award.
« When it happens, you’re very surprised, and you think it’s not real. But obviously it’s real, » she said.
During Emmanuelle Charpentier’s studies of the bacterium Streptococcus pyogenes, she discovered a previously unknown molecule called tracrRNA. Her work showed that tracrRNA is part of the organism’s immune defences.
In 2011, the same year she published this work, Charpentier began a collaboration with Doudna to recreate the bacterium’s genetic scissors in a test tube. They also worked on simplifying the scissors’ molecular components so they were easier to use.
In their natural form, the bacterial scissors recognise DNA from viruses. But Charpentier and Doudna showed that they could be reprogrammed to cut any DNA molecule at a predetermined site. Cutting the DNA then allows the code of life to be rewritten.
Commenting on the discovery, biological chemist Pernilla Wittung-Stafshede, said: « The ability to cut DNA where you want has revolutionised the life sciences. »
Chemist Claes Gustafsson added: « We can edit any genome, we can ask all kinds of questions, » adding that it could be harnessed to treat genetic diseases.
Swedish industrialist and chemist Alfred Nobel founded the prizes in his will, written in 1895 – a year before his death.
2019 – John B Goodenough, M Stanley Whittingham and Akira Yoshino share the prize for their work on lithium-ion batteries.
2018 – Discoveries about enzymes earned Frances Arnold, George P Smith and Gregory Winter the prize
2017 – Jacques Dubochet, Joachim Frank and Richard Henderson were awarded the prize for improving images of biological molecules
2016 – Jean-Pierre Sauvage, Fraser Stoddart and Bernard Feringa shared the prize for the making machines on a molecular scale.
2015 – Discoveries in DNA repair earned Tomas Lindahl and Paul Modrich and Aziz Sancar the award.
2014 – Eric Betzig, Stefan Hell and William Moerner were awarded the prize for improving the resolution of optical microscopes.
2013 – Michael Levitt, Martin Karplus and Arieh Warshel shared the prize, for devising computer simulations of chemical processes.
2012 – Work that revealed how protein receptors pass signals between living cells and the environment won the prize for Robert Lefkowitz and Brian Kobilka.
Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Emmanuelle Charpentier, Jennifer Doudna, Chemistry, Genome editing, CRISPR
Actu monde – US – Genome editing wins Nobel chemistry prize