Chemical scientists Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A Doudna are only the sixth and seventh women ever to win the award.

Caricature of Nobel Prize winners for Chemistry Emmanuelle Charpentier on the left and Jennifer A Doudna on the rightNobel Prize
news Nobel Prize Wednesday, October 07, 2020 - 16:23

Chemical scientists Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna were awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry on Wednesday, becoming only the sixth and seventh women ever to win the award in over a century.

The research of the pair concerned "the development of a method for genome editing." The international pair, made up of French Berlin-based Charpentier and Doudna in the US, discovered the CRISPR "genetic scissors" in 2012, a breakthrough that "has taken the life sciences into a new epoch," the Nobel committee said.

"This year's prize is about rewriting the code of life," the committee said. The tool can be used to change the DNA of animals, plants and microorganisms with extremely high precision.

Practical applications

An application of CRISPR is particularly useful in altering the DNA of various plants and animals so they can withstand certain blights or viruses.

It has also been the subject of controversy. A scientist in China was jailed in 2019 for creating the world's first "gene-edited babies" with the technology.

Charpentier is head of the Max Planck Insitute for the Science of Pathogens in Germany, while Doudna is a professor at the University of California.

The prestigious award comes with a gold medal and prize money of 10 million Swedish krona (about €950,000; $1.1 million).

The award that has frequently honored work which led to practical applications in wide use today, such as last year's win for the brains behind the lithium-ion battery.

Week of awards

On Monday, the committee awarded its prize for physiology or medicine to US scientists Harvey J. Alter and Charles M. Rice as well as British-born scientist Michael Houghton for discovering the hepatitis C virus. On Tuesday, three astrophysicists shared the award  in physics for their research into black holes.

The other prizes awarded by the committee are for literature, peace and economics, most of which will be announced later this week. The winner of the peace prize will be announced on Friday.

The awards, handed out almost every year since 1901, come with a gold medal.

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