The MPIIB congratulates Emmanuelle Charpentier on the Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna receive the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

October 07, 2020

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry to Emmanuelle Charpentier, head of the Max Planck Research Unit for the Science of Pathogens. She receives the prize together with molecular biologist Jennifer Doudna from the University of California, Berkeley, for her contribution to the development of the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology. The Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology congratulates Emmanuelle Charpentier on this great achievement!

Today, biological research without the CRISPR-Cas9 is hard to imagine – the technology is considered a revolution in medicine, biotechnology and agriculture. The decisive study on the mechanism was published less than ten years ago: In 2011, Emmanuelle Charpentier described the interaction of tracrRNA, CRISPR RNA and Cas9 as a central component of the activation of CRISPR-Cas9 in bacteria for the first time. Previously, it was only known that CRISPR-Cas functions for bacteria and archaea as a kind of immune system to fend off attacks from viruses.

Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna recognized the potential of this mechanism. Their breakthrough was to describe the complex CRISPR-Cas9 system and then to simplify it considerably. The two researchers developed the system into a precise and effective gene editing tool for scientists. Genetic modifications of organisms had previously often been tedious and error-prone. Now DNA could be edited comparatively easily, much like a text editing software that edits or corrects individual typing errors in a document.

As early as 2012, Doudna and Charpentier described the exact way the CRISPR-Cas9 system works in the scientific journal Science. They also provided instructions for other scientists on how the system can be used as a versatile genetic tool for modifying genomes. Since then, the tool has been triumphant in a wide range of fields, including human and veterinary medicine, agriculture and biotechnology. CRISPR-Cas9 is so easy and versatile to use that the tool has quickly replaced older and established technologies for genome editing – in the eight years since its development, CRISPR-Cas9 has become a standard in many laboratories.

“I am truly amazed at the speed at which CRISPR research and applications in so many diverse areas of the life sciences have developed in recent years”, explains Emmanuelle Charpentier in a press release of the Max Planck Society on this year's Nobel Prize in Chemistry. “I look forward to seeing new developments in this genome editing and engineering technology, particularly as a gene-based medicine to treat serious human diseases”.

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