• Vinny Iachella

CRISPR Wins Nobel Prize

Gene Editing Tool CRISPR Wins Nobel Prize

Scientists Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier won this year’s Chemistry Nobel Prize for discovering a gene editing technology called CRISPR, a human gene editor.

CRISPR has been known as ‘genetic scissors’ used to fight bacteria for 8 years. CRISPR stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats. Bacteria have used this kind of technology to cut out viral DNA segments viruses inject into bacteria.

Jennifer Doudna first observed the phenomenon at UC Berkeley, and was very intrigued. While researching the subject she encountered Emmanuelle Charpentier, who was also interested in the possible uses of the gene editing technique. Once they realized they had complementary skill sets, they started to work on practical applications for the tool.

“The genetic scissors were discovered just eight years ago, but have already benefited humankind greatly,” Pernilla Wittung-Stafshede, a member of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry, said at an Oct. 7 news conference. “Only imagination sets the limits for what this chemical tool … can be used for in the future. Perhaps the dream of curing genetic diseases will come true.”

The tool works by using an enzyme and RNA guide to cut specific sequences of a DNA strand. The enzyme, cas9, cuts the DNA into individual strands. Then the RNA attaches itself to the target strand. Cas9 once again cuts the DNA, but this time through both strands.

CRISPR’s potential uses are endless, and scientists have already utilized the tool to edit genes in dogs, mice, butterflies, cows, pigs, and snails. Small movies have also been encoded into DNA strands. Aside from having fun with the technology, researchers have also been able to reprogram human immune cells to fight cancer and turn cancer cells against each other.

Clinical trials started in 2019 have been experimenting with ways to fight cancer, sickle-cell disease, and inherited blindness.

Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier are the sixth and seventh women to ever win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, marking another significant milestone.

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