Jennifer Doudna & Emmanuelle Charpentier

 

 

 

 

 

Jennifer Doudna & Emmanuelle Charpentier

 

Jennifer Doudna (USA) and Emmanuelle Charpentier (France) unlocked a powerful tool inspired by nature. In 2012, they discovered how the bacterial immune system CRISPR-Cas9 can be harnessed as “molecular scissors” to precisely edit DNA in various organisms, including humans. Their breakthrough discovery led to scientists around the world changing their methodologies overnight, revolutionizing gene editing as we knew it.

 

Bacteria use the CRISPR-Cas9 system to defend themselves against invading viruses. They do so by incorporating snippets  of the viral DNA into a specific section of their own genome known as CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat). Once integrated, these snippets serve as a genetic memory. When the bacterium is reinfected with the same virus, it converts this section into RNA. This RNA sequence will then navigate an enzyme – CRISPR-associated (Cas) protein (e.g. Cas9) – to the invading viral DNA which in turn binds and cuts the DNA effectively neutralising the viral threat. These women discovered a method to apply this as a gene editing tool in humans. Since then, it has been applied in many different organisms.

 

How is CRISPR-Cas9 being used?

  1. Potentially treat genetic diseases caused by mutations, by editing the DNA, such as cystic fibrosis – human trials underway
  2. Treating Alzheimer’s disease and HIV
  3. Removing malaria from mosquitoes
  4. Creating crops that are disease-resistant and drought-resistant

 

Their groundbreaking discovery resulted in them being jointly awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

 

If you want to know more about this discovery,  Jennifer Doudna tells the story in her excellent book “A Crack in Creation