Berlin, Oct 7 (efe-epa).- Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry on Wednesday for their development of a genome-editing tool that allows researchers to further understand life’s “inner workings.”
French scientist Charpentier, director of the Max Planck Unit for the Science of Pathogens in Berlin and American biochemist Doudna, professor at the University of California, Berkeley, reprogrammed a bacterial molecule in a way that allows researchers to cut and rewrite DNA.
The CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors allow researchers to accurately snip the DNA of an organism or microorganism, opening it up for alteration.
The technology has already been put to use in agriculture with the development of mold-resistant crops and is being deployed in clinical cancer trials and research on hereditary diseases.
Claes Gustafsson, chair of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry, said: “There is enormous power in this genetic tool, which affects us all.
“It has not only revolutionized basic science but also resulted in innovative crops and will lead to ground-breaking new medical treatments.”
The genetic scissors were the result of research sparked by an unexpected discovery Charpentier made in 2011 when studying the bacteria Streptococcus pyogenes.
In 2011, the French scientist published her discovery of a previously unknown molecule in the ancient immune system of the bacteria that was able to neutralize viruses by cutting their DNA.
Building on the discovery, Charpentier and Doudna successfully recreated the molecule and were able to program it, proving that the genetic scissors could not only recognize the virus but also be used to open and ultimately any DNA molecule.
The prize committee said in a statement: “These genetic scissors have taken the life sciences into a new epoch and, in many ways, are bringing the greatest benefit to humankind.”
The winners of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry will split the prize money of 10 million Swedish kroner ($1.1M).
The award for chemistry follows on from medicine, which was given to virologists Harvey Alter, Charles Rice and Michael Houghton for their research on Hepatitis C.
The Nobel Prize for Literature will be announced on Thursday, Peace on Friday and Economics on Monday. EFE-EPA