University of California at Berkeley biochemist Jennifer A. Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier, a scientist from France, won the 2020 Nobel Prize in chemistry on Wednesday for their work developing the revolutionary gene-editing tool CRISPR-Cas9. The tool is being explored as a cancer therapy and helping cure inherited diseases.
“This year’s prize is about rewriting the code of the life,” said Göran K. Hansson, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences secretary general.
CRISPR-Cas9 is frequently likened to molecular scissors. It can hunt for specific sections of DNA and snip those out. “We can now change the genetic information in any cell in any organism,” said Claes Gustafsson, chair of the Nobel chemistry committee.
Since its discovery eight years ago, the tool has been widely deployed in research laboratories worldwide. It has also been used for plant breeding and as cutting-edge medical therapies in clinical trials for diseases such as sickle cell disease.
Since 1901, the Nobel Committee has awarded 112 prizes in chemistry to 186 people. Seven, including Doudna and Charpentier, have been women. Last year, John B. Goodenough became the oldest person to win a Nobel – he was 97 – for his work developing lithium-ion batteries, an award he shared with chemists M. Stanley Whittingham and Akira Yoshino.