Women in STEM: Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna
On October 7, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced that Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna had won the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for making significant advances in genome editing.
Using genetic scissors called the CRISPR/Cas9, they discovered a revolutionary way to change the DNA of animals, plants, and micro-organisms, which makes them a fantastic choice to be featured in our Women in STEM series for the month of October.
Göran K. Hansson of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the academy that awards the Nobel Prizes in physics and chemistry, went so far as to say that what Emmanuelle and Jennifer accomplished in winning this year’s prize was about “rewriting the code of life.”
On Winning the Nobel Prize in Chemistry:
Emmanuelle is a French microbiologist and Founding, Scientific and Managing Director of Max Planck Unit for the Science of Pathogens. She earned a PhD in Microbiology from the Pasteur Institute in Paris, France.
Jennifer A. Doudna
Jennifer is an American biochemist and Professor of Biochemistry, Biophysics and Structural Biology at the University of California, Berkeley. She earned a PhD from Harvard Medical School in Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology.
CRISPR + Cas9
CRISPR is a bacterial immune system that prevents viral infection. One component of this immune system is a protein called Cas9, which can be programmed to find and cut virus DNA. According to Jennifer, this tool can “rewrite genes in a way that gives us control over cells and organisms, with remarkable outcomes.”
Forming a partnership in 2012 to combine Emmanuel’s study of harmful bacteria with Jennifer’s experience in viruses, they found they could use the CRISPR/Cas9 to cut DNA molecules at predetermined sites, taking enzymes from bacteria that control microbial immunity and using them for genome editing.
The precision with which this tool can modify genes in cells is groundbreaking, already helping to find new cancer therapies that could lead to one day curing inherited diseases. In the meantime, it’s being used to develop crops that can withstand mold, pests, and drought.
Jennifer became the first woman on the Berkeley faculty to win a Nobel Prize. And, Jennifer and Emmanuelle became the first women in history to win a Nobel in the sciences together. Emmanuelle felt the honor sent, “A clear message that it is possible to achieve ultimate recognition even if you are female.”
Forging an exciting new path in genome editing, Emmanuelle and Jennifer are a great example of the kind of leadership that Tynker loves and a true inspiration to the next generation of girls who are dreaming of a career in STEM. We can’t wait to see what they’ll come up with next!