The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry to Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A Doudna for the development of a method for genome editing. It was a significant moment as the two women took the award in a category which is mostly dominated by men.
Charpentier and Doudna have discovered one of gene technology’s sharpest tools, known as the CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors. With this breakthrough discovery, the researchers can change the DNA of animals, plants and microorganisms with extremely high precision. It has been said that the technology has had a revolutionary impact on the life sciences and is contributing to new cancer therapies and may make the dream of curing inherited diseases come true.
Charpentier, who is the Director at Berlin's Max Planck Unit for the Science of Pathogens, was born in Juvisy-sur-Orge, France. She completed her PhD in 1995 from Institut Pasteur in Paris.
56-year-old Jennifer A Doudna completed her PhD in 1989 from Harvard Medical School. She is currently a professor at the University of California, Berkeley and Investigator at Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
After the announcement, the two scientists expressed their gratitude, as Doudna said, “I’m proud of my gender, It’s great for especially younger women to see this that women’s work is recognised.”
The academy called it “an epoch-making experiment” where they reprogrammed the genetic scissors. The scissors recognise DNA from viruses in their natural form, but Charpentier and Doudna proved that they could be controlled so that they can cut any DNA molecule at a predetermined site. It is easy to rewrite the code of life where the DNA is cut.
Claes Gustafsson, chair of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry, said that this genetic tool contains enormous power which affects us all. The discovery has not only revolutionised basic science, but also resulted in innovative crops and will lead to ground-breaking new medical treatments.
Madame Marie Curie was the first woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in 1903 for her work in the field of Physics. She went on to win the award twice. The second time it was Bertha von Suttner who won the Nobel Prize for peace in 1905. Till 2019, the Nobel Prize has been awarded to women 53 times.