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Nobel Prize in Chemistry Awarded to Two Scientists for Groundbreaking 'Genetic Scissors' Discovery

Dr. Emmanuelle Charpentier and Dr. Jennifer A. Doudna were awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize for Chemistry this week for their development of a groundbreaking method for editing DNA which is widely considered the greatest breakthrough in the biological sciences since DNA was first discovered! Doudna, an American biochemist and professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and Charpentier, a French microbiologist and the director of the Max Planck Unit for the Science of Pathogens in Berlin, Germany, discovered the CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors, a tool that allows scientists to "snip" the DNA of organisms, allowing for easy and precise genetic modifications.

The pair are the first women to jointly win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, and represent the sixth and seventh women in history to win the chemistry prize. "This technology has utterly transformed the way we do research in basic science," asserts Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health. "I am thrilled to see Crispr-Cas getting the recognition we have all been waiting for, and seeing two women being recognized as Nobel Laureates."

Doudna was born in Washington, D.C. in 1964 and Charpentier was born in Juvisy-sur-Orge, France in 1968, and while they both pursued careers in biochemistry, it took Streptococcus pyogenes bacteria to bring them together. Charpentier had been studying the bacteria, which causes scarlet fever and other diseases, and while examining its DNA in 2006, she noticed a series of repeating genetic patterns. She knew that other scientists had found fragments of genetic material from attacking viruses captured between the bacteria's repeating DNA segments — which had been named 'clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats' or CRISPR — but nobody was sure how the bacteria's immune response worked. Charpentier and her team helped unravel this mystery when they discovered that the bacteria made a previously unknown form of RNA called tracrRNA that would recognize the genes of viruses if they attempted to attack the bacteria again.

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