Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna are awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2020 for discovering one of gene technology’s sharpest tools: the CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors. Researchers can use these to change the DNA of animals, plants and microorganisms with extremely high precision. This technology has revolutionised the molecular life sciences, brought new opportunities for plant breeding, is contributing to innovative cancer therapies and may make the dream of curing inherited diseases come true.
One of the attractions of science is that it is unpredictable – you can never know in advance where an idea or a question may lead. Sometimes a curious mind will meet a dead end, sometimes it will encounter a thorny labyrinth that takes years to navigate. But, now and again, she realises she is the first person ever to gaze upon a horizon of untold possibility.
The gene editor called CRISPR-Cas9 is one such unexpected discovery with breathtaking potential. When Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna started investigating the immune system of a Streptococcus bacterium, one idea was that they could perhaps develop a new form of antibiotic. Instead, they discovered a molecular tool that can be used to make precise incisions in genetic material, making it possible to easily change the code of life.