Nobel Prize Awarded to ASM Members for Development of CRISPR-Cas9

Oct. 8, 2020

The 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded on Oct. 7, 2020, to a pair of scientists who were recognized for their development of the genome editing tool called CRISPR-Cas9. The laureates are: Emmanuelle Charpentier, researcher at the Max Planck Unit for the Science of Pathogens, in Berlin, Germany and Jennifer A. Doudna, biochemist at the University of California, Berkeley. Drs. Charpentier and Doudna are ASM Members and have been Fellows of the American Academy of Microbiology since 2015. The scientists made history by becoming the first all-women duo to be awarded a Nobel Prize in a specific category. 

Illustration by Niklas Elmehed
Illustration by Niklas Elmehed

CRISPR-Cas9 was adapted from naturally occurring ancient bacterial immune systems. Bacteria use CRISPR/Cas systems to recognize and cut DNA of invading viruses into inactive segments called CRISPR arrays. This effectively disables the virus and contributes to immune “memory” of the bacteria.  

In 2011, while studying Streptococcus pyogenes, Dr. Charpentier discovered a new molecule in the CRISPR/Cas system, called tracrRNA and began collaborating with Dr. Doudna to reprogram the CRISPR system. Together, the pair discovered that CRISPR could be guided to cut DNA at target sequences using the Cas9 protein. This allows genetic material to be subsequently added, deleted or changed as desired, using the cell’s own DNA repair machinery. 

When speaking about the impact of this powerful molecular tool, the chair of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry, Claes Gustafsson, called CRISPR-Cas9 “ground-breaking” and “revolution[ary].” From medicine to plant research, the applications of this genetic tool are far-reaching. Some have suggested that CRISPR-Cas9 could be the key to curing certain types of inherited disease. CRISPR is already being used to treat cancers, sickle cell anemia and blindness. In the midst of the pandemic, Doudna and her team are actively exploring how CRISPR can target and destroy COVID-19

Dr. Charpentier has served on the Board of Editors for the ASM's mBio journal since 2017 and has been a reviewer for ASM’s Journal of Bacteriology and Applied and Environmental Microbiology. Both Doudna and Charpentier have been published in ASM journals. ASM congratulates the recipients of this esteemed award for their ground-breaking contributions to science.

Author: ASM Communications

ASM Communications
ASM Communications staff.