Blazing the trail to a bright future with women leaders, two female scientists–Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna–have made history by becoming the first women to jointly win the Nobel prize for chemistry!
Could you imagine a world where scientists could just snip away at human genes until they could perfect them? A world where diseases and biological flaws could be removed from a lab? The scientist duo of Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna has developed the CRISPR tool, which can change the DNA of animals, plants, and microorganisms with high precision.
The two women were awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry early on Wednesday. This is the first time that the award has gone to two women. The history of the chemistry Nobel prize has only seen a total of 5 women, not including Emmanuelle and Jennifer, winning accolades!
As rightfully stated by Goran K. Hansson, the secretary-general of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, “This year’s prize is about rewriting the code of life.”
What is CRISPR/Cas9
CRISPR/Cas9 stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats. In essence, this is a DNA or gene-editing tool. With CRISPR, scientists can snip a gene/ DNA at a certain point and work on replacement or renewal—making it a revolutionary tool for humankind.
“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,” says Claes Gustafsson, chair of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry.
The genetic ‘scissors’ were developed about eight years ago but have already taken a great part in how humans view biology and their surroundings. The tool has had impacts in molecular life sciences, genetic plant breeding, and much more. Most importantly, CRISPR can be used to find solutions for genetic diseases and cancer, making it invaluable to modern society!
However, the technology is not free of its fair share of controversy. CRISPR, while being an amazing technological leap, is also under debate about ethics.
Who has access to gene modification technology, who owns it, how they use it, and who benefits from it? These questions are important in determining how beneficial CRISPR can be to the world at large! The impact of gene modification can be huge. It can impact not only crops and health, but also the reality of the future generations. The ethical considerations also play a major role in the creation of this technology.
Who are Emmanuelle and Jennifer?
Emmanuelle Charpentier was born in Juvisy-Sur-Orge, France, and is director of the Max Planck Unit for the Science of Pathogens, Berlin, Germany. Jennifer Doudna was born in Washington, DC, and is a professor at the University of California, Berkeley.
Doudna and Charpentier co-authored their first paper, talking about the power and potential of CRISPR-Cas9 in 2012. Since then, the technology has gained traction worldwide. Scientists have used CRISPR technology for diverse fields. From making ‘allergy-free food to innovating cancer research, CRISPR has made a mark on many lives!
Charpentier and Doudna are not the only women to make their mark this year. Astrophysicist Andrea Ghez also won the Nobel prize in Physics for the year 2020. She is a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of California at Los Angeles
She shares this prize with Roger Penrose and Reinhard Genzel. Their pioneering work accurately maps the motion of stars in the center of Milky Way. It establishes the existence of our very own supermassive black hole!
Only a handful of women have been afforded the opportunity to prove themselves in the field of science. This is a great opportunity to remember the many many women who have proved their mettle, and made a mark in the annals of history!
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