Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier won the 2020 Nobel Chemistry Prize for their work with the CRISPR-Cas9 technology. Their landmark win stands as the first all-women recognition for a Nobel Science Prize.
- Women & the Nobel Science Prize
- About Doudna and Charpentier
- About Their Research (CRISPR-Cas9)
- Implications of Their Win
(TL;DR at bottom 😊)
Approximate Read Time: 3-4 minutes!
Women & the Nobel Science Prize:
Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier are the first all-women team to receive a Nobel science prize, and they are the 6th and 7th women to be honored for their contributions for research in chemistry since 1901.
Their recent win was “a historic moment,” as stated by Pernilla Wittung Stafsheden of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which is responsible for selecting the Nobel laureates in chemistry.
As a woman in STEM, I most definitely agree with Stafsheden’s remark! Although we have a ways to go in terms of equal representation of gender and race in STEM, it’s truly incredible that women are gaining more recognition for their inspiring work.
About Doudna and Charpentier:
Doudna was born in 1964, and spent much of her childhood in Hawaii. After earning a Bachelor’s in chemistry at Pomona College in California, she began an education at Harvard University.
Duodna conducted research regarding RNA catalytic activity and RNA sequences as they apply to viral infections before her work with CRISPR, which she was awarded the Nobel prize for. Currently, she is a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of California, Berkeley.
Charpentier, born in Juvisy-sur-Orge in France in 1968, studied biochemistry, microbiology, and genetics at the Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris. Her work involved molecular mechanisms involved in antibiotic resistance and of course, CRISPR.
She is currently a French professor at Humboldt University, as well as the Scientific and Managing Director of the Max Planck Unit for the Science of Pathogens in Berlin, an independent institute she founded in 2018!
About Their Research (CRISPR-Cas9):
Doudna and Charpentier received the Nobel prize in chemistry for their development of CRISPR-Cas9, a tool that allows scientists to snip segments of DNA and edit the genetic code of animals, plants, and microorganisms!
(Click here to see how CRISPR-Cas9 applies to cell therapy treatments for obesity and diabetes, as detailed in one of our previous articles!)
Back in 2011, Charpentier discovered a molecule that disarms viruses by cutting out parts of its DNA sequence. Partnering up with Doudna, they recreated the molecule’s “genetic scissors,” and thus, CRISPR was born!
A few applications of CRISPR include:
- Research into treatments for diseases such as cancer and HIV
- Development of pest and drought resistant crops
“Thanks to the work of these two world leading scientists we are starting to understand the role of genes in biology and disease and laying the foundations for developing targeted medicines for genetic conditions.”Robert Lechler, President of the Academy of Medical Sciences
Implications of This Win:
Doudna and Charpentier hope that their recognition will help inspire young women who would like to pursue a path of science, as the field remains dominated by men. They hope that their work shows women in science that their research is impactful and important:
“My wish is that this will provide 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.”Charpentier
“[It’s] great for especially younger women to see this and to see that women’s work can be recognised as much as men’s.”Doudna
The messages of Doudna and Charpentier mirror those of Andrea Ghez, who received the 2020 Nobel prize in physics in a joint award with Roger Penrose and Reinhard Genzel on their work with black holes. Ghez is the 4th woman to be awarded a Nobel prize in physics.
In reality, this prize won’t change the fact that women in academia don’t earn as much as their male counterparts, don’t get published as frequently, and don’t hold as many positions of power. However, I am hopeful that recognitions such as the ones discussed here will continue to inspire and give a greater voice to women in STEM!
Thank you for reading this piece. I hope you enjoyed it & will further ponder the knowledge it brings to light. I encourage you to leave a comment and/or start a discussion in the section below!
- Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier received the 2020 Nobel prize in chemistry for their development of CRISPR-Cas9, a tool that allows scientists to snip segments of DNA and edit the genetic code of animals, plants, and microorganisms!
- Doudna, a professor at Berkeley, and Charpentier, the founder of the Max Planck Unit for the Science of Pathogens in Berlin, are the first all-woman team to receive a Nobel science prize.
- In reality, this prize won’t change the fact that women in academia don’t earn as much as their male counterparts, don’t get published as frequently, and don’t hold as many positions of power. However, I am hopeful that recognitions such as the ones discussed here will continue to inspire and give a greater voice to women in STEM!
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