For the first time in 119 years of history, the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2020 was won jointly by women team, the US and French professors for genome editing.
French microbiologist Professor Emmanuelle Charpentier and American biochemist Professor Jennifer Doudna from University of California, Berkeley together received the prize on October 2020, for their method of editing genes through CRISPR-Cas9 technique. The technique, as per the laureate duo, can be used to change animal, plant and microorganism DNA.
The invention is taken as revolutionary in basic science with hopes to leading ground-breaking new medical treatments. The invention is expected to bring changes in treating inherited diseases.
Also called ‘genetic scissors’, the technique can be used to cut any DNY molecule in a predetermined site. The discovery came as an unexpected result of Professor Charpentier during her study of the bacteria Streptococcus pyogenes, one of the harmful bacteria. During her study, she discovered a previously unknown molecule, tracrRNA which is the bacteria’s ancient immune system, CRISPR/Cas, that disarms viruses by cleaving their DNA.
As she published her discovery in 2011, she collaborated with Jennifer Doudna who held extensive knowledge on the RNA. Together, they recreated the bacteria’s genetic scissors in a test tube and simplified the scissor’s molecular components making it easier to use. The scissors, in their natural form, recognize DNA from virus. Their experiment proved that with the scissors, the molecule of DNA can be cut at any predetermined site, making it possible to rewrite the code of life.
Since the discovery, the use of CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors has been wide and revolutionary. From plant researchers developing crops that can withstand mold, pests and drought, to clinical trials of new cancer therapies and researches for Alzheimer’s cure, the technique have taken the life sciences to new epoch and contributing greatly to the treatment of humankind and plants.
Professor Charpentier, 51 and Professor Doudna, 56 are ‘sixth’ and ‘seventh’ women to receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, and the first women-only team to receive the award. Professor Charpentier shared through her twitter handle, “My wish is that this will provide a positive message to the young girls who would like to follow the path of science, and to show them that women in science can also have an impact through the research that they are performing.”
The first woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was Marie Curie in 1911 for discovery of radium and polonium, who also won the prize for physics in 1903.