Pictures of Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna, winners of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, are displayed on a screen during the news conference announcing the laureates, at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, in Stockholm, Sweden, October 7, 2020. are the laureates, . TT News Agency/Henrik Montgomery/Pool via REUTERS


Two women shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for developing a modification tool referred to as a pair of “genetic scissors.”

UC Berkeley biochemist Jennifer A. Doudna and French scientist Emmanuelle Charpentier won for CRISPR/Cas 9, a tool that snips out DNA with the ease of clipping a coupon. The tool furthers the dream that genetic disease can be altered, even cured, by precise edits that target specific genome sequences. Pernilla Wittung-Stafshede, a member of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry, said at Wednesday’s news conference announcing the prize that the tool “has revolutionized the life sciences.”

“We can now easily edit genomes as desired,” she said, “something that before was hard, or even impossible.” 

The technology has swept through laboratories worldwide since its inception in the last eight years and offered hope that scientists could, for example, snip out the DNA that causes sickle-cell anemia or offer resistance to disease in livestock or crops. Researchers need to modify genes in cells if they are to find out about life’s inner workings. This used to be time-consuming, difficult and sometimes impossible work. Using CRISPR, it is now possible to change the code of life in a few weeks.

This is the first time two women have shared the Nobel Prize. Charpentier reflected on the historical significance of the award shortly after the news broke. “I think it’s very important for women to see a clear path,” she said. “I think the fact that Jennifer Doudna and I were awarded this prize today can provide a very strong message for young girls.”


2020 Nobel Prize Winners: Full List – New York Times – 10/7/2020
Nobel Prize season begins every October as committees in Sweden and Norway name laureates in a variety of prizes in the sciences, literature and economics, as well as peace work.

Gene Therapy’s Renaissance – Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News – 10/2/2020
In 1999, Jesse received a dose of the ornithine transcarbamylase gene, engineered into a recombinant adenovirus, at the University of Pennsylvania. The idea was for the gene to zero in on liver cells. However, soon after the treatment, he developed jaundice, inflammation, and multiple organ failure. Within four days, Jesse was dead.

Cattle are being gene edited to help them survive climate change – New Scientist – 10/7/2020
CRISPR genome editing has been used to create a cow with grey patches instead of black, meaning it will absorb less heat. The aim is to reduce heat stress in the animals due to global warming – which, ironically, is in no small part due to emissions and deforestation from cattle ranching.

The Chronicles of CRISPR – Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News – 10/2/2020
CRISPR burst onto the scene in 2012–2013 as a powerful new tool for targeting and editing almost any stretch of DNA. The applications are almost boundless, not least in medicine and genetic therapy. 


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