Two scientists won 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry on Wednesday for creating genetic ‘scissors’ that could rewrite code of life, contributing to new cancer therapies as well as holding out the prospect of curing hereditary diseases.
Emmanuelle Charpentier, a French, and American Jennifer Doudna share the 10 million Swedish crown and $1.1 million prize for developing CRISPR tool to edit DNA of animals, plants as well as microorganisms with correct precision.
“The ability to cut the DNA where you want has revolutionized the life sciences,” Pernilla Wittung Stafshede of the Swedish Academy of Sciences to said in the ceremony.
Charpentier, 51, and Doudna, 56, became the sixth and seventh women to win the Nobel for chemistry who joined Marie Curie, who won the same in 1911, whereas more recently, Frances Arnold, in 2018.
This is the first time since 1964 when Britain’s Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin alone won the nobel award, and no men are listed among chemistry prize winners.
Charpentier, of the Max Planck Unit for Science of Pathogens, told journalists in Berlin “extremely emotional and extremely moved by the award, which arrived as complete surprise”.
The first Nobel won by two women invented how “science becomes more modern and develops more female leaders”, she said after setting down a glass of wine to pose for the cameras alongside a bust of Planck, the 1918 Physics Nobel laureate.
The head of the Academy asked Charpentier for Doudna’s cellphone number to break the news, only to be beaten to the punch by a reporter – at 3 a.m. on the U.S. West Coast.
“She wanted to know if I could comment on Nobel and I said, ‘Well, who won it?’,” Doudna said, breaking into a laugh.
Doudna is an employee in CRISPR in the battle against coronavirus as co-founder of biotech startup Mammoth, which has tied up with Glaxo Smith Kline to develop a test to detect infections.