Professors Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry on Wednesday for their discovery of the CRISPR/Cas9 system, according to a Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences press release.
Dr. Charpentier, of the Max Planck Institute in Germany, and Dr. Doudna, of the University of California-Berkeley are the first women to receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Their system can edit DNA of any sequence and has wide-ranging applications in medicine, cancer therapies, and even agricultural technologies, according to the press release.
The CRISPR system, which are repetitive DNA sequences responsible for bacteria’s antiviral immune response, works in conjunction with Cas9, an enzyme whose function is to cleave DNA at specific sequences, according to a document with scientific background about their discovery. Charpentier, in her studies of this system in a specific strain of bacteria, discovered a molecule called tracrRNA which is involved in the assembly of CRISPR/Cas9. Following her unexpected discovery, she collaborated with the lab of Doudna to structurally re-engineer Cas9 enzyme so that it can cleave DNA of any sequence.
Cas9 enzyme is originally a four-component system, consisting of RNA components. Charpentier and Doudna reengineered the enzyme by fusing two RNA components, which guides the enzyme to different to a specific DNA sequence. This guide RNA can be programmed to any sequence, so this molecularly engineered CRISPR/Cas9 system can functionally cleave DNA of any sequence in any microorganism, plant, or animal. (RELATED: Donald Trump Nominated For Nobel Peace Prize Over UAE-Israel Peace Deal)
These “genetic scissors” can enable the programming of crops to be able to withstand harsh weather and environmental conditions, and possibly cure hereditary diseases and cancer, according to The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences press release.
A Nobel Prize in the sciences has been won by a woman alone three other times in the history of the prizes, and only four times has a prize in the three science categories been won by females alone, including this year for the prize in Chemistry, according to the Associated Press.
Charpentier and Doudna are expected to give their Nobel lecture towards the end of this year.