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Emmanuelle Charpentier: Nobel Prize in Chemistry for Berlin-Based Researcher

Professor Emmanuelle Charpentier, a Director at the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin, will receive the Nobel Prize. Governing Mayor Michael Müller congratulated her already.

Berlin, October 7th, 2020 (The Berlin Spectator) — Emmanuelle Charpentier from the Max Planck Institute’s ‘Unit for the Science of Pathogens’, is one of the two winners of this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry. The other recipient is the American biochemist Jennifer Doudna from both the Department of Chemistry and the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California in Berkeley.

‘Genetic Scissors’

The Nobel Foundation said, the two researchers would receive the Prize “for the development of a method for genome editing”. Both of them contributed a lot to something known as “genetic scissors”, a tool for rewriting the code of life.

According to the Foundation in Stockholm, the two ladies “have discovered one of gene technology’s sharpest tools”, namely “the CRISPR/Cas9”. Using “these genetic scissors”, researchers could change the DNA of animals, plants and microorganisms with extremely high precision, it said in the rationale.

‘Enormous Power’

“This technology has had a revolutionary impact on the life sciences, is contributing to new cancer therapies and may make the dream of curing inherited diseases come true”, the statement reads. “Researchers need to modify genes in cells if they are to find out about life’s inner workings. This used to be time-consuming, difficult and sometimes impossible work. Using the CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors, it is now possible to change the code of life over the course of a few weeks.”

Claes Gustafsson, the Chairman of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry said there was “enormous power” in this genetic tool “which affects us all. It has not only revolutionized basic science, but also resulted in innovative crops and will lead to ground-breaking new medical treatments.”

Mould and Pests

“As so often in science, the discovery of these genetic scissors was unexpected”, the Nobel Foundation said. “During Emmanuelle Charpentier’s studies of Streptococcus pyogenes, one of the bacteria that cause the most harm to humanity, she discovered a previously unknown molecule, ‘tracrRNA’. Her work showed that tracrRNA is part of bacteria’s ancient immune system, CRISPR/Cas, that disarms viruses by cleaving their DNA.” This is where some laymen, including the author of these lines, lose it.

Since Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna had discovered the CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors in 2012, their use has exploded, the Foundation stated. “This tool has contributed to many important discoveries in basic research, and plant researchers have been able to develop crops that withstand mould, pests and drought.”

Trés bien!

Professor Charpentier was born in 1968 in Juvisy-sur-Orge, France. She got her Ph.D. in 1995 from the Institut Pasteur, Paris, France. In 2015, she became the Director of the Max Planck Unit for the Science of Pathogens in Berlin. Her colleague Jennifer Doudna was born in Washington D.C. in 1964.

The prize amount, 10 million Swedish Kronor (955,658 Euro, 1,124,700 U.S. Dollars or 870,557 Pounds Sterling) will be shared between the Laureates. Since 1901, the Nobel Prizes in Physics and Chemistry have been awarded. The awarding ceremony is scheduled to take place on December 10th, 2020, which is the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death in 1896.

In Berlin, Governing Mayor Michael Müller, who is also the city state’s Science Senator, congratulated Professor Charpentier. “We are very proud to have such a stellar researcher in Berlin”, he said.

Photo by Bianca Fioretti, Hallbauer & Fioretti (see license)