Science | October 8, 2020 12:14 pm

Two Women Win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna are only the fifth and sixth women to take home the prize

Emmanuelle Charpentier
Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna won the Nobel Chemistry Prize.
TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP via Getty Images

French microbiologist Emmanuelle Charpentier and American biochemist Jennifer A. Doudna have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, becoming only the fifth and sixth women to do so in the history of the prize.

Charpentier and Doudna have received the award for the discovery of the CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing system, which allows scientists to make more efficient and inexpensive changes to DNA. According to Scientific American:

This CRISPR tool, often described as “genetic scissors,” has been used by plant researchers to develop crops that withstand pests and drought, and it could transform agriculture. In medicine, the method is involved in clinical trials of new cancer therapies. And researchers are trying to employ it to cure certain inherited diseases. “It is being used all over science,” says Claes Gustafsson, chair of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry.

The two women began working together back in 2011 after meeting at a conference in Puerto Rico. Their award marks the first time the chemistry prize has gone to two women, and one of few times it’s been handed down to a woman at all. As Luis Echegoyen, president of the American Chemical Society, noted, while many women have been nominated, “few have obtained the prize.”

“I’m very happy this prize goes to two women. I hope it provides a positive message for young girls, young women, who wish to follow the path of science,” Charpentier told Scientific American.

“I’m delighted to inspire the next generation, if possible,” echoed Dounda at a press conference.

Previous female recipients of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry include Marie Curie and her daughter, Irene.

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