Wall of Wonder

Copyright: Getty Images
Photographer: Miguel Riopa
Origin: Agence France-Presse

Nobel Winners/Noble Women

On October 7, 2020, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences made a historic announcement. They awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry to Dr. Emmanuelle Charpentier and Dr. Jennifer A. Doudna. It is also the first time the prize has been shared by two women since inception in 1901. The partnership of Drs. Charpentier and Doudna is credited with pioneering one of the most game-changing discoveries in biology. By developing a method for genome editing, they enabled scientists to change the DNA of microorganisms, plants and animals with precision. Along with the worldwide acclaim of making such a breakthrough, came controversy. Some of the science and research community continue to raise ethical concerns surrounding the use of the CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing technique. Yet, the hundreds of millions of dollars invested and innumerable startups created thereafter, validates that Dr. Charpentier and Dr. Doudna have revolutionized molecular life sciences.

Dr. Emmanuelle Charpentier is Founding Scientific and Managing Director of the Max Planck Unit for the Science of Pathogens. A trained microbiologist, Charpentier in her dissertation, analyzed how pieces of bacterial DNA moved between cells and around the genome. Conducted at the Pasteur Institute, that research explained further how drug resistance is transferred. Dr. Jennifer A. Doudna, a biochemist, is Professor of Biochemistry, Biophysics and Structural Biology at the University of California, Berkeley. Receiving a PhD from Harvard, Doudna added theory to the existing knowledge base. In her dissertation is the methodology for engineering a catalytic RNA that could self-replicate. Both women went on to lead equally illustrious careers at some of the world’s most preeminent research centers.

With the CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors, Drs. Charpentier and Doudna effectively proved that any DNA molecule can be cut from predetermined loci. Their work recreated and simplified bacteria’s genetic scissors, allowing researchers the ability to essentially rewrite the code of life in a matter of weeks. Charpentier and Doudna discovered a tool that has transformed life sciences. Innovative cancer therapies, novel plant breeding opportunities, and reignited hopes of curing hereditary diseases exist because of CRISPR/Cas9. Dr. Emmanuelle Charpentier and Dr. Jennifer A. Doudna are the sixth and seventh women to win the auspicious Nobel Prize in Chemistry. But their legacies have the potential to become even greater. Their research inspires girls in America, France and the world to take the STEM path. Living examples of remarkable female leaders, Charpentier and Doudna have lasting impact by modernizing science.

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