Source : PortMac.News | Street :
Source : PortMac.News | Street | News Story:
Nobel prize for chemistry awarded for developing genetic scissors
Nobel Prize in Chemistry awarded to Jennifer Doudna (left) and French microbiologist Emmanuelle Charpentier, who discovered CRISPR gene editing tool for 'rewriting the code of life'
The Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded to Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna for the development of a method for genome editing.
They discovered one of gene technology's sharpest tools: the CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors. Using these, researchers can change the DNA of animals, plants and micro-organisms with extremely high precision.
Before announcing the winners on Wednesday, Göran K. Hansson, secretary-general for the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, said that this year's prize was about "rewriting the code of life."
The CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing tools have revolutionized the molecular life sciences, brought new opportunities for plant breeding, are contributing to innovative cancer therapies and may make the dream of curing inherited diseases come true, according to a press release from the Nobel committee.
There have also been some ethical concerns around the CRISPR technology, however.
Charpentier, a French microbiologist, and Doudna, an American biochemist, are the first women to jointly win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, and the sixth and seventh women to win the chemistry prize.
Charpentier said at a Wednesday news conference that she hoped the win sent a "positive message to the young girls who would like to follow the path of science, and to show them that women in science can also have an impact through the research that they are performing."
CRISPR gene-editing technology has often been mentioned as a candidate for the chemistry prize, but David Pendlebury, a senior citation analyst at Clarivate Analytics, said before the announcement that it was a potential minefield for a Nobel Committee that likes to play it safe.
While worthy, he said several groups of scientists had been collaborating on gene editing, making it hard to narrow it down to the Nobel Prize's maximum of three winners.
Moreover, the technology had until recently been tied up in patent wrangles and been dogged by ethical concerns after Chinese scientist He Jiankui was jailed for creating the world's first gene-edited babies.
He was condemned by many of his peers, with the experiment labeled "monstrous," "unethical," and a "huge blow" to the reputation of Chinese biomedical research.
Many people within the scientific community raised ethical concerns, including the level of consent he had obtained from the parents of the babies, and the level of transparency around gene editing.
Speaking on the awarding of Wednesday's Nobel Prize, Dr. John Parrington, a lecturer in Cellular & Molecular Pharmacology at the University of Oxford, said: "I think this is very well deserved indeed."
Parrington told the UK's Science Media Centre (SMC) that while a number of other scientists have made important contributions to this discovery, there was "no doubt" that Doudna and Charpentier played a key role in understanding the CRISPR/Cas mechanism, and how it might be developed as a genome editing tool.
He added that CRISPR/Cas genome editing "has immense potential to transform our lives for the better but also raises many ethical and socio-political questions."
Life's inner workings
When Charpentier and Doudna investigated the immune system of a Streptococcus bacterium, they discovered a molecular tool that can be used to make precise incisions in genetic material.
They succeeded in recreating the bacteria's genetic scissors in a test tube and simplifying their molecular components so they were easier to use.
Sarah Norcross, director of the Progress Educational Trust, told the SMC the pair had "devised an unprecedentedly powerful and precise means of changing DNA sequences in living cells."