Two scientists have won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for developing a method for editing DNA with precision. Frenchwoman Emmanuelle Charpentier and American Jennifer A. Doudna discovered one of gene technology’s sharpest tools: the CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors.
Using these, researchers can change the DNA of animals, plants and micro-organisms with extremely high precision.
“This technology has had a revolutionary impact on the life sciences, is contributing to new cancer therapies and may make the dream of curing inherited diseases come true.
“There is enormous power in this genetic tool, which affects us all,” said Claes Gustafsson, chair of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry. “It has not only revolutionised basic science, but also resulted in innovative crops and will lead to ground-breaking new medical treatments.”
Since the two scientists discovered the Crispr-Cas9 genetic scissors, their use has exploded. The tool has contributed to many important discoveries in basic research; and, in medicine, clinical trials of new cancer therapies are underway.
But there has also been concern that the technology conferred God-like powers on scientists and could be misused, for example, to create ‘designer babies’.
It is the first time the Nobel Prize for Chemistry has been awarded to two women in the same year in its 119-year history. On being one of the first two women to share the prize, Prof Charpentier said, “I wish that this will provide a positive message specifically for young girls who would like to follow the path of science… and to show them that women in science can also have an impact with the research they are performing.”
The prestigious award comes with a gold medal and prize money of more than $1.1m, courtesy of a bequest left more than a century ago by the prize’s creator, Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel.