Nobel Prize in Chemistry awarded for ‘gene scissors’

Nobel Prize in Chemistry awarded for ‘gene scissors’

Scientists Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna were awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the development of a method for genome editing.

Charpentier, who is French, and Doudna, an American, become the sixth and seventh women to win a Nobel Prize for chemistry, joining the likes of Marie Curie (1911) and, more recently, Frances Arnold (2018).

“Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A Doudna have discovered one of gene technology’s sharpest tools: the CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in a statement on Wednesday on awarding the 10 million Swedish crown ($1.1m) prize.

“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.”

Gustafsson said, as a result, any genome can now be edited “to fix genetic damage”, adding that the tool “will provide humankind with great opportunities”.

But he cautioned that the “enormous power of this technology means we have to use it with great care”.

The prizes for achievements in science, literature and peace were created and funded in the will of Swedish dynamite inventor and businessman Alfred Nobel and have been awarded since 1901, with the economics award a later addition.

Like so much else, the coronavirus pandemic has redrawn the Nobels, with many of the traditional events, such as the grand banquet, cancelled or moved online even as research into the disease – above all the hunt for a vaccine – has dominated the scientific spotlight.