This year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded for the discovery of the CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing system, which has enabled scientists—for the first time—to make precise changes in the long stretches of DNA that make up the code of life for many organisms, including people. The prize was shared by Emmanuelle Charpentier, director of the Berlin-based Max Planck Unit for the Science of Pathogens, and Jennifer A. Doudna, a professor and biochemist at the University of California at Berkeley. The scientists will split the prize money of 10 million Swedish kornor, or just over $1.1 million dollars.
This CRISPR tool, often described as precise genetic scissors, has been used by plant researchers to develop crops that withstand pests and drought. In medicine, the method is involved in clinical trials of new cancer therapies, and researchers are trying to use it to cure certain inherited diseases. “It is being used all over science,” says Claes Gustafsson, chair of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry.
This is the first time the chemistry Nobel has gone to two women. Charpentier, reached by phone this morning, said, “I’m very happy this prize goes to two women. I hope it provides a positive message for young girls, young women, who wish to follow the path of science.”